Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge

The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) program aims to improve the quality of early learning and development and close the achievement gap for children with high needs. RTT-ELC grants focus on improving early learning and development programs for young children by supporting each State's efforts to:

  • Increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged children in each age group of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs;
  • Design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services; and
  • Ensure that any use of assessments conforms with the recommendations of the National Research Council's reports on early childhood.

On December 16, 2011 the White House announced that nine states—California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington—would receive grant awards from the $500 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge fund, a competitive grant program jointly administered by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

ACF's Early Childhood Development Office works closely with the Department of Education’s Office of Early Learning to guide and oversee the work of these nine states.

RTT-ELC focuses on five key areas of reform:

  1. Establishing Successful State Systems by building on the State's existing strengths, ambitiously moving forward the State's early learning and development agenda, and carefully coordinating programs across agencies to ensure consistency and sustainability beyond the grant;
  2. Defining High-Quality, Accountable Programs by creating a common tiered quality rating and improvement system that is used across the State to evaluate and improve program performance and to inform families about program quality;
  3. Promoting Early Learning and Development Outcomes for Children to develop common standards within the State and assessments that measure child outcomes, address behavioral and health needs,  and inform, engage and support families;
  4. Supporting a Great Early Childhood Education Workforce by providing professional development, career advancement opportunities, appropriate compensation, and a common set of standards for workforce knowledge and competencies; and
  5. Measuring Outcomes and Progress so that data can be used to inform early learning instruction and services and to assess whether children are entering kindergarten ready to succeed in elementary school.

RTT-ELC Highlights

  • On April 9, 2012, the Departments of Education and Health & Human Services announced that $133 million from the 2012 RTT of $550 million will be available for continued investments in state-level, comprehensive early education reform (RTT-ELC Phase 2). The Departments intend to fund down the FY 2011 slate and invite the next five applicants, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin, to apply. The five states were each eligible to apply for up to 50 percent of last year's potential award amount.
  • On June 20, 2012 the Department of Education published in the Federal Register a notice for public comment related to the proposed requirements for the RTT-ELC Phase 2 competition. Interested parties had up to 30 days (until July 20, 2012) to submit opinions, ideas, suggestions, and comments, after which ED and HHS jointly considered the input received before posting a final notice of rulemaking in the Federal Register.
  • About $400 million from the 2012 appropriation will be used to run a new district-level RTT competition. The Department of Education will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register July or August 2012 with the full details of this proposal.
  • Grant awards will be made no later than December 30, 2012.

Phase 3 Resouces and Information

The winners of Phase 3 of RTT-ELC were announced on December 19, 2013. Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont will each receive a share of the 2013 Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge $280 million grant fund to improve quality and expand access to early learning programs throughout their states. The six winners join 14 existing state grantees. Twenty states will now have additional federal resources to support their reform agenda for early childhood education. 

Get more information on funding and state applications, scores, and comments.

Additional Resources


HHS Policy Advisors assigned to RTT-ELC

Davida McDonald
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Administration for Children and Families
901 D Street, SW, 6th Floor West
Washington, DC 20447
Phone: (202) 205-8370
Fax: (202) 205-4891
Email: davida.mcdonald@acf.hhs.gov

Ngozi Onunaku
Senior Policy Analyst for Early Childhood Development and Education
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Administration for Children and Families
Aerospace Building
901 D Street, SW, 7th Floor West
Washington, DC 20447
Phone: (202) 260-5943
Fax: (202) 205-4891
Email: ngozi.onunaku@acf.hhs.gov

Marsha Basloe
Senior Advisor for Early Childhood Development and Education
Administration for Children and Families
Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development
Aerospace Building
901 D Street, SW, 6th Floor West
Washington, D.C. 20447
Phone: (202) 401-7241
Email: marsha.basloe@acf.hhs.gov

Richard Gonzales
Senior Advisor for Early Childhood Development and Education
Administration for Children and Families
Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development
Aerospace Building
901 D Street, SW, 6th Floor West
Washington, D.C. 20447
Phone: (202) 401-5138
Email: richard.gonzales@acf.hhs.gov


Related Information - Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge

Legislation, Policies & Regulations
Research, Reports & Resources