Policy Resource

Minnesota Takes on the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge

Aug 1, 2018

In December 2011, Minnesota was awarded a four-year Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant and proposed the following targets to improve its early learning and development (ELD) system.

The state proposed to do several things that would benefit infants, toddlers and their families, such as:

  • Employ a variety of strategies to increase participation in Parent Aware, the state’s quality rating and improvement system (QRIS). The strategies included school readiness scholarships and individualized coaching to help programs develop a quality improvement plan before joining the QRIS. The state also hoped to implement a new accelerated pathway to rating for Head Start centers, accredited center and home-based child care, and School Readiness programs.
  • Provide additional support and incentives to expand high-quality ELD opportunities to school districts receiving Title I funding in the target communities. Four communities that have high childhood poverty and significant community infrastructure on which to build have been identified as Target Communities, or Transformation Zones. The four Transformation Zones were: White Earth Reservation, Itasca County, St. Paul’s Promise Neighborhood and Minneapolis’ North Side Achievement Zone.
  • Offer free and low-cost training toward the Minnesota Child Care Credential to cohorts of early childhood professionals working in Parent Aware-rated settings that serve a population of 25% or more high-need children.

The state of Minnesota employed three primary strategies to meet their goals under the RTT-ELC. The first strategy was to improve the quality of programs through a tiered QRIS, revision of the early learning standards, and supports for the workforce. The second strategy was to increase children’s access to high quality early childhood programs through early learning scholarships to families and grants to incentivize the expansion of high quality programs. The third and final strategy was to enhance the assessment and data systems in place in order to improve Minnesota’s ability to measure progress and support children’s learning and development throughout all early childhood experiences.

As of the end of 2016, Minnesota made the following progress towards its proposed ELD system:

  • Parent Aware expanded the number of rated programs from 529 in 2012 to 2,635 in 2016.
  • Transformation Zones implemented local plans to connect family, friend and neighbor providers with parent education experiences and resources. Minnesota Department of Education staff created a toolkit of over 300 existing early childhood resources to be used to guide and support providers.
  • Transformation Zones reported benefits that include:
    • Greater continuity of care
    • Increased hours for children previously in care
    • More children transition to higher quality care
  • The state actively piloted an electronic Ages and Stages screening instrument. Nine community-level pilot sites have fully implemented electronic screening access for the families they serve in settings such as family home visiting, WIC clinics, school districts, primary care clinics and Head Start/Early Head Start. Sites have noted:
    • An increase in the number of children screened
    • Increased efficiency
    • Families report the system is easy to use and helps them understand their child’s growth and development
  • The Minnesota Department of Health led Assuring Better Child Health Development (ABCD) Family Medicine Project, an initiative that improved screening, referral and feedback processes for children birth to 5 with suspected developmental or social-emotional delays. The project resulted in 19,859 well child visits with 16,832 children who completed screens and 513 children who were referred for early intervention services.
  • The development of the Minnesota Infant/Toddler Credential (MNITC) has been completed and English and Spanish cohorts are in progress.
  • The state released Minnesota’s Knowledge and Competency Framework for Early Childhood Professionals in December of 2014 in three versions: for individuals working in Family Child Care, Preschool-Aged Children in Center and School Programs, and with Infants and Toddlers.

Learn more about Minnesota and how other states are using RTT-ELC funds to strengthen their early childhood systems in ZERO TO THREEs papers: How Are Early Learning Challenge Grant Targeting Infants and Toddlers and The Early Learning Challenge Grant Is Helping States Better Serve Infants and Toddlers.

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