Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
June 24, 2011
Archived Information

June 24, 2011

Dear Governor:

We are writing to make you aware of important new opportunities available to States for strengthening early learning and development and putting the nation on a path to improved outcomes for children from birth to age five.  In May, we were proud to announce a significant new investment in early learning:  the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) – a $500 million competitive grant program to be jointly administered by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  This letter provides additional information about the RTT-ELC competition and its connection with other efforts to improve the quality of early learning and development programs.

We expect to publish the RTT-ELC notice inviting applications in the Federal Register late this summer and accept applications in the fall, and will award grants by December 31.  Information on the RTT-ELC competition is available at: We will update this site as new information becomes available.  It also includes a dedicated blog so that the public may provide input.  By July, we plan to release more information about the RTT-ELC competition and make it available on this site.

The RTT-ELC competition is a powerful tool that will help highly committed States move forward on providing more children from birth to age five from low-income families – with access to high-quality early learning and development programs.  As with the first two rounds of Race to the Top, the bar to receive an RTT-ELC grant will be set high.

Through the RTT-ELC, we want to support breakthrough work that dramatically improves the quality of early learning and development programs.  States applying for RTT-ELC grants will need to propose a bold plan to increase the proportion of children from birth to age five from low-income families that are in high-quality early learning and development programs and enter kindergarten ready to learn.  The competition will focus on key reforms, including aligning early childhood resources and systems and improving early learning and development standards and assessment, program standards, tiered rating and improvement systems, and early childhood educators.  We will be looking to fund applications that demonstrate courage, commitment, capacity, and creativity. 

The RTT-ELC competition will provide incentives and funding to strengthen early learning and development programs, but, by itself, it will not be enough to transform State early learning systems.  Its real power will lie in its ability to help States leverage, directly or indirectly, other State and Federal funding streams, such as the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF); Early Head Start and Head Start programs; and the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, as well as the funding provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended. 

To help jump-start your efforts, HHS’s Office of Child Care recently released the final Child CCDF Plan Pre-Print for fiscal years 2012-2013.  The pre-print serves as the State’s application for CCDF funds and provides an opportunity for States to consider their current efforts to promote high-quality early learning and development and engage programs in a planning process for the future.  We anticipate that the RTT-ELC grant competition will consider how States plan to use CCDF funds, especially through State initiatives to improve quality.  Successful RTT-ELC applicants will use the CCDF Plan to set forth a strategic plan for helping more children from low-income families access higher quality care.  CCDF Plans are due on August 1, 2011, but HHS will accept revisions as you finalize your RTT-ELC applications.

As you begin the joint planning necessary for submitting a competitive RTT-ELC application, we encourage you to engage a wide range of stakeholders, including representatives from the early childhood community; officials from State agencies or departments responsible for education, special education, early intervention, child care, human services, and health; your chief State school officer; your Head Start Collaboration Director; and chairs of your State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care (SAC) or similar organization.  You may want to build on the efforts already under way in your SAC.  

We look forward to working with you and supporting your efforts to build an integrated, high-quality comprehensive State early learning system that encourages innovation, helps to close the achievement gap, and prepares young children for success in school and in life.


Arne Duncan
Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary of Education
Secretary of Health & Human Services

cc: Chief State School Officers
  State CCDF Lead Agency Officials
  State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care Chairs

Last Modified: 02/16/2017