Nine states will receive Race To The Top Early Learning grants, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced Friday.

The states -- California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Ohio and Washington -- will share $500 million in federal funding. The grants will be good for four years and will range from $50 million to $100 million, depending on the state's population and its proposed plans, according to a White House press release. Grants amounts will be finalized after the departments, which are jointly administering the grants, hold discusions with the recipients.

At an event announcing the grant winners, Duncan and Sebelius stressed the importance of early education. They presented research by James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of economics at the University of Chicago, that showed dollars invested in early learning result in a significantly greater return on that investment than funding directed toward elementary, secondary and post-secondary education.

"Investing in early learning is one of the smartest things we can do," Duncan said. "We have to educate our way to a better economy."

A total of 35 states, plus D.C. and Puerto Rico, applied for the Early Learning grants. Jacqueline Jones, senior advisor on early learning for Duncan, said the winners were chosen based on the quality of their overall proposals and the initiatives that they had already implemented. The grants are intended to help states do a number of things: align and raise standards for existing early learning programs, improve training for the early learning workforce and develop evaluation systems to assess the success of early learning programs, according to the White House. The money will be targeted toward Head Start programs, public pre-K programs, childcare and private preschools.

Six of the states -- Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island -- also received Race To The Top funding in the first two rounds of the competition, which focused on K-12 education reform.

Another seven states -- Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey and Pennsylvania -- have applied for the final $200 million in Race To The Top funding that remains from the fiscal year 2011 budget. Duncan said those awards, which will go toward K-12 education, would be announced later this month.