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Minnesota receives Race to the Top grant

With half of Minnesota's youth entering kindergarten unprepared, the State took a large step forward today to ensure all young children will have access to high quality early learning. At an event at the White House, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced that Minnesota has won a federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant to advance early education efforts.

"This is a great day for our state's youngest learners and their families," said Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. "Nothing is more important to our state's long-term economic success than making sure all of our kids come to school ready to learn. This grant allows us to strengthen our early childhood education and ensure our youth have all the tools they need to succeed. "

Minnesota is currently faced with one of the widest achievement gaps in the nation and too often youth who begin school behind their peers academically, remain behind or drop out. In applying for the grant, the Department of Education sought to address this issue and build on the innovative efforts of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation. To do this, the Department cultivated a unique public private partnership that included the Governor's Children's Cabinet, the Early Learning Council, the United Way and other stakeholders from all over the state.

Today's announcement fulfills Governor Mark Dayton's promise to utilize a collaborative, community based approach in applying for the grant and furthers the Administration's commitment toward positioning Minnesota as a national leader in early education reform.

As one of nine states to receive the grant; the Department will receive $45 million to develop a better aligned system of accountable and effective early childhood education. The work will first focus on four communities - White Earth, Itasca County, Saint Paul's Promise Neighborhood and Minneapolis' Northside Achievement Zone - providing best practices that can then be implemented in communities throughout the state. In addition to funds from the grant, the Department will leverage $60 million in existing state funding to maximize current investments in early learning and engage public and private partners.

Rooted in a firm belief that a student's long-term success requires a strong foundation, the Race to the Top grant will also focus the State's efforts in three other key areas:

Accountability and decision-making: Through an improved governance structure, expanded child and provider assessment and a data system.

A Great Early Childhood Workforce: By supporting professional/career development of early childhood professionals

High Quality Accountable Programs: By using the Parent Aware Quality Rating and Improvement System to improve quality and to give parents good information, scholarships to increase cess to quality programs for high need children and a Title I match for expanded school district pre-Kindergarten programs

"I've always believed that change can happen quickly if it is purposeful, collaborative and grounded in effective strategies," said Commissioner Cassellius. "This grant was the result of an extraordinary public- private partnership and reflects the Dayton Administration's strong commitment toward providing every child with access to high quality early learning programs. "From the leadership shown by my fellow Children's Cabinet Commissioners Lucinda Jesson and Ed Ehlinger to the guidance of the Early Learning Council to the support of the passionate advocates in the early learning community, this collaboration showed Minnesota's "can-do" spirit at its best. I want to thank President Obama, Secretary Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education for this incredible honor."

Early learning strategies are critical piece of Governor Dayton's 7-Point Plan for Better Schools for a Better Minnesota. This work will also further the Administration's commitment toward building a state that works for all Minnesotans, whether they are at the beginning of their school career or preparing for retirement.