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West Central Initiative Early Childhood Coordinator Nancy Jost (sixth from left) and members of Minnesota's Race to the Top implementation team met with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (fifth from left) during a meeting of the nine Race to the Top early learning challenge states in Washington D.C.

Minnesota's Race to Top grant has regional connections

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FERGUS FALLS, MINN -- When the implementation team for Minnesota's Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant headed to Washington D.C. in April to meet with top officials in the Departments of Education, and Health and Human Services, West Central Initiative's Early Childhood Coordinator Nancy Jost was there to represent the state and the region.

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In December, Minnesota was one of only nine states to receive a federal Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant of $45 million for 2012-2015. The states are charged with developing plans to improve their early learning systems. In particular, the grant focuses on helping more young children from families with low income access high-quality early learning and development programs. The goal is for the results to speak volumes about the importance of investing in our children as early as possible to ensure success in school and in life.

"My desperate hope is that you are wildly successful," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the RTT-ELC implementation teams. He described them as pioneers heading into uncharted waters, and stressed the importance of developing successful plans that make a point so that they can ask for more resources in the future.

Nancy Jost described the experience: "This was first of many meetings for the nine states. It was a wonderful start for networking and learning from each other as well as learning more about what is expected from the states. It is so exciting to see the commitment from the federal government and state leaders."

In west central Minnesota, the White Earth Reservation was chosen as one of the four "transformation zones" receiving RTT-ELC funding. The other communities are Itasca County, St. Paul's Promise Neighborhood and Minneapolis' Northside Achievement Zone. The grant will provide and test best practices that can then be implemented in communities throughout Minnesota.

West Central Initiative is a regional community foundation serving the nine west central Minnesota counties of Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Wilkin. WCI invests resources in our communities for regional success, using the tools of economic development and community development, and by promoting philanthropy.

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