Michigan completes Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge application

LANSING – Michigan has completed and submitted its application for $70 million in early childhood funds through the federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge.

The federal challenge will funnel a total of $500 million to “that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive early learning education reform,” according to the challenge’s website. Winning states will be notified on or before Dec. 31. 

To view the Michigan application, click here. To view the Appendix, click here.

Michigan’s application was put together by a team of early education experts headed by Joan Blough, Vice President of Great Start System Development and Evaluation for the Early Childhood Investment Corporation. To view a roster, click here.

The application makes Michigan’s case this way: “With over 50 percent of the state‘s children falling into the category of high needs, the potential to fundamentally alter the lives of a generation of children is at hand, were this grant to come to Michigan. Michigan citizens, the private sector, the state‘s foundations, and the state‘s Republican and Democratic leaders have intentionally put the foundational infrastructure in place that is allowing Michigan to put forward this ambitious yet achievable grant during one of the darkest and most difficult economic times any state has ever faced. No other state has done more to build a comprehensive early childhood system with more limited resources, nor achieved so much in so little time. Michigan and its leaders are ready, willing and able to deliver on this unprecedented opportunity.

“Michigan is currently enacting an ambitious, comprehensive early learning and development reform agenda. The grant is an opportunity to accelerate this well-designed plan. In the plan Michigan has been intentional about alignment of programs and services, feasibility, and especially sustainability, as one time federal dollars are not a long term solution.”

Referring to the state's rationale for its early learning and development reform agenda and goals, the report stated:

“Michigan‘s young children and families are in trouble. Over 50 percent of children under the age of five have high needs. The number of children in families at or below 100 percent of poverty continues to climb. There is an ever growing recognition among leaders in every sector of the state that our greatest hope for fundamentally turning Michigan around lies with its youngest children. Our comprehensive early learning and development reform agenda, presented in this section, is designed to build on the state‘s substantial progress over the last five years, not only in reforming funding, policy and programs in service to the state‘s children with highest needs, but also in building a citizen‘s and parent‘s movement devoted to ensuring that every Michigan child enters school safe, healthy and eager to succeed in school.”

Blough said regardless of whether or not Michigan is awarded a grant, the state has benefited from the process.

"The challenge has provided an opportunity because of how it's organized into five key areas of reform that will help us assess where we are as a state," said Joan Blough, leader of the team and transition director for the new Office of Great Start. "Whatever comes or doesn't come from the challenge, we could still implement these plans if we get income from another source. It's not like we would change our minds."

In awarding the grants, the Early Learning Challenge program will focus on states that:

• Build successful state systems
• Focus on high quality, accountable programs
• Promote early learning and development
• Build a high quality early childhood education workforce
• Measure outcomes and progress

"The grants encourage you to assess where you're at then to be able to make very concrete, specific plans on how to move forward in those areas," said Blough. "It's their theory of change that if you are working on these areas to build early learning and development systems then you'll be most effective."

In total, 35 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rica submitted applications.

“The strong response from states shows there is a shared commitment to raising the bar on quality across early learning programs, including those serving low income children who too often start kindergarten already behind their classmates,” said Secretary for Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. “By investing in our children’s early years, we can put them on track to success in school and in the 21st century job market while boosting our long term competitiveness as a nation.” 

Over the next several weeks, applications will undergo peer review by early childhood experts from across the country. In mid-December, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services will award the highest ranked applicants within funding availability. Awards will range from around $50 million up to $100 million, depending on a state’s population of children from low-income families and proposed plan.

In August, the New America Foundation listed Michigan as a "likely contender" to win a grant.

For M-Live coverage of the grant application, click here.