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Early Learning Challenge Collaborative

Six States Awarded RTT-ELC Round 3 Grants


Read Brain Building, a blog post on the BUILD Initiative website by Deputy Director Susan Hibbard on the opportunities presented by Round 3 of RTT-ELC.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have awarded $280 million dollars to six states – Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont – from the Round 3 2013 Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) fund. The grant funds will be used by the recipients to improve access to high quality early learning and development programs statewide. These six states join the 14 existing state grantees who secured funding in the first two rounds, which began in 2011.

To date, the program has awarded nearly $1 billion dollars to provide a strong start for the United States’ youngest children and to put them on the path to a bright future. RTT-ELC is a key part of executive branch’s comprehensive early learning agenda, which also includes President Obama′s Preschool for All proposal. RTT-ELC supports states in their systemic efforts to align, coordinate, and improve the quality of existing early learning and development programs across multiple funding streams that support children from birth through age five.

Maintaining the Initial Focus

Launched in 2011, the competitive RTT-ELC program helps states improve early learning and development systems by:

  • Coordinating existing programs
  • Evaluating and rating program quality
  • Increasing access to high-quality programs, particularly for children with high needs

For Round 3, the program is maintaining the initial overall purpose and structure. Priorities, requirements, definitions, and selection criteria are, in large part, identical to those of Rounds 1 and 2, with a continued focus on five key areas of reform:

  1. Establishing successful state systems − by building on the state′s existing strengths, ambitiously moving forward the state′s early learning and development agenda, and carefully coordinating programs across agencies to ensure consistency and sustainability beyond the grant.
  2. Defining high-quality, accountable programs − by creating a common tiered quality rating and improvement system that is used across the state to evaluate and improve program performance and to inform families about program quality.
  3. Promoting early learning and development outcomes for children − to develop common standards within the state and assessments that measure child outcomes, address behavioral and health needs, as well as inform, engage and support families.
  4. Supporting a great early childhood education workforce − by providing professional development, career advancement opportunities, appropriate compensation, and a common set of standards for workforce knowledge and competencies.
  5. Measuring outcomes and progress − so that data can be used to inform early learning instruction and services and to assess whether children are entering kindergarten ready to succeed in elementary school.

An Additional Priority

In addition to some language changes, some amended lists, and a request for data on the participation of children to be disaggregated by race and ethnicity, the Round 3 RTT-ELC competition added a new priority. States were encouraged to describe strategies for addressing the unique needs of their rural populations.

Grant Awards

State Grant Amount





Pennsylvania $51,734,519
Kentucky $44,348,482
New Jersey $44,286,728
Vermont $36,931,076


Program Background

First year funding − $500 million − attracted 37 applicants. The nine states receiving the highest scores − California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. − were selected. With more modest 2012 funding, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin, the next five highest-scoring applicants, were asked to modify their 2011 applications and create plans that could be funded with up to 50 percent of the award amount originally requested. RTT-ELC grants are awarded over a four-year period in accordance with each state′s plan.

The grants provide a significant boost for states, especially in tough economic times. With the federal support, the 20 recipients are able to build bold, comprehensive early learning programs and services around a tiered quality rating and improvement system. RTT-ELC is also enabling the 20 grantee states to continue the work of the public/private partnerships that have been critical to the development of the early learning systems building movement. This decade-old movement laid the groundwork and created the frame from which the federal program developed.

ELCC Support for States

The Early Learning Challenge Collaborative worked intensively with nearly three-quarters of the states submitting applictions in Round 3 and provided some level of support to others – as we had in previous rounds of the RTT-ELC competition. We will support the newest RTT-ELC grantee states, helping them make the most of this opportunity through tailored technical assistance, topical consortia, webinars, and other learning community activities.