BUILDing Strong Foundations

Brain Building:
Round Three Early Learning Challenge

12/19/2013 12:00:00 AM
Posted by: BUILD Initiative

Susan Hibbard, BUILD Initiative Deputy DirectorSusan Hibbard
BUILD Initiative Deputy Director

Today the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services announced the third round of grants in the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC). 

This represents a combined $280 million in Round 3 funding and over $1 billion in ELC funding overall to improve early learning systems for babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

This new stage in the evolution of RTT-ELC reminds me and others at BUILD and its ELC Collaborative – a project that we operate in partnership with the First Five Years Fund – how gratifying it is to see federal dollars invested in our country’s most important resource for the future – our children. The Early Learning Challenge demonstrates federal understanding of the need for resources to invest in infrastructure to create and fuel early care and education systems over time. Brain Building in progress as a Massachusetts colleague would say.  

Congratulations to the grantees – BUILD states Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, as well as Kentucky and Vermont. They join 14 other ELC states already implementing their strategic plans.


“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” 
Nelson Mandela

Advancing Systems

The Early Learning Challenge isn’t about program expansion. It’s about infrastructure, connections, and scaling up, and supports state leaders’ work in these fundamental areas. It underscores the need to advance systems and practices that build on the assets of and reflect our country’s many cultures, languages, races, and ethnicities. It reminds us that children learn in many settings – formal and informal, in the first 1000 days as well as in pre-K, in communities and at home – and that health and social-emotional development are all part of the early learning context.

Building on the Momentum

Each of the new grantee states is testament to the power of the Early Learning Challenge. All of them won Round 3 grants after applying for Round 1 grants in 2011 –and then using their Round 1 application as a jumping-off point for important work in the last two years:

  • Georgia and Michigan fully launched new quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS).
  • New Jersey began piloting its QRIS.
  • Kentucky revised its QRIS and participated in cross-state collaboration with three first-round Challenge grantee states in the development of a new ground breaking QRIS assessment tool.
  • Vermont prioritized its early childhood approach and leadership, with the governor holding a summit in 2013 to plan next steps.
  • Pennsylvania, which had created such momentous progress for young children in the 21st century, never slowed down, implementing many aspects of its initial plan including revising its QRIS and implementing kindergarten assessment.

Congratulations as well to all the states that seized the opportunity – in this round and in the earlier rounds. The convening of stakeholders, the cross-walking of plans, and the collective designing of a new path forward will serve all the state applicants well as they move forward (with or without the grant funding) to meet the challenge of expanding and enhancing early learning opportunities for every child, especially those with the highest needs.

Keeping Our Focus on the True Winners

The winners in this process are the children in the states in which leaders keep trying new strategies, testing old assumptions, re-envisioning what could be. In these days, as we close the year and look to new beginnings, and when we can no longer hear the living voice of Nelson Mandela, let’s remember his hopeful words, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” 

We’re Here to Help

Know that BUILD and ELCC will continue to support all states to:

  • Build high quality early childhood systems.
  • Focus on the children with the greatest needs.
  • And respect families’ diversity in culture, languages, races, and ethnicities.

Let’s make sure that we document the efforts in the grantee states, learn from the funded efforts, and share the strategies that rise to the top. And, let’s continue to learn from and connect with leaders in all states who are taking new and innovative steps to create the early childhood systems that each and every child needs.

BUILD and the Early Learning Challenge Collaborative stand ready to translate and disseminate lessons so that all our country’s children have opportunities to succeed as lifelong learners. We can’t afford to stop learning.

Leave a comment below, and join the conversation. Share some of the innovative strategies your state is adopting to create early childhood systems that help children thrive.


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5 comment(s) so far...
    • Dec 19 2013, 2:43 PM Julia Coffman
    • Congratulations to all of the Round 3 winners! And a special shout out to NJ, a state whose early learning efforts I hold near and dear. I just want to underscore the tremendous opportunity here for continuing to use evaluation to support learning both within and across states as these system building efforts continue. This is especially the case as states move from planning to early implementation and then on to more experienced implementation on initiatives like QRIS, and it becomes possible to test and learn about what is and is not working, and how efforts can be adapted for better effect. Onward!

    • Dec 19 2013, 4:20 PM Joan Lombardi
    • Bravo to everyone across the country who has worked so hard on the Early Learning Challenge over the past few years. The goal was always to assure that a higher percentage of young children receive better services. Now we must all make sure that we move towards policies that include every state and ensure early opportunities for all! ! Looking forward.

    • Dec 19 2013, 4:25 PM Sara Slaughter
    • Congratulations to the Round 3 winners and congratulations to the children of all states! As we grow the number of states receiving federal investments to build quality systems for children, we move closer to having a nation where all children -- regardless of where they are born -- have the opportunity to maximize their potential. So we celebrate and move onward!

    • Dec 23 2013, 11:19 AM Joanne Spigner
    • The many different collaborations and innovations - big & small - it takes to achieve this meaningful progress are daunting to create and difficult to sustain. Yet your collective leadership, talents and persistence within Build, ELCC and the participating states are making it happen. Congrats on keeping your bold shared vision moving ever closer to reality. Yes, onward!

    • Dec 31 2013, 6:21 PM Melinda Green
    • Congratulations to all the Round 3 winners.Congratulations to all of you who have fought tirelessly for high quality early childhood programs over the years! I must add special congratulations to my home state of New Jersey which has continued to fight for high quality early learning programs despite tremendous obstacles. I applaud you!

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