Vallay Varro was a founding state executive director. She now serves as the president of 50CAN.

MinnCAN Vallay Varro gives an update on the state of education reform in the North Star State:

Minnesota is on a roll. After coming together as a state this summer to enact reforms that clear the path to quality pre-K for all families, we submitted a comprehensive and actionable Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge application. Not only did MinnCAN formally participate in the development of our state’s application, we had the opportunity to engage broad and diverse community organizations in the process. The project had an incredibly quick turnaround and we look forward to continuing to engage our community around education reform.

It started earlier this fall when the Minnesota Department of Education needed to document community endorsements in its Race to the Top application. With this compressed timeline, the department turned to MinnCAN, a trusted partner, to get the job done effectively and quickly. It was a natural and timely fit for MinnCAN. In 2011, we got Minnesota leaders to enact a pre-K quality rating system and create scholarships for low-income families.

To demonstrate broad support for Minnesota’s bid in the Race to the Top—a program to give states federal dollars for pre-K reforms like the ones we just passed—we convened 28 leaders across Minnesota to express our shared commitment to early childhood education in a letter of support. The politics surrounding Minnesota’s first – and unsuccessful – attempt to obtain Race to the Top funds last year made this no easy feat. However, by reinforcing MinnCAN’s mission and advocating for progressive pre-K education reform in one-on-one meetings, we successfully rallied leaders to support Minnesota’s submission. We can all agree that quality early learning opportunities are a key element in closing the achievement gap in Minnesota.

The passion our fellow leaders articulated to swiftly close Minnesota’s achievement gap – the second largest in the United States – prompted us to produce and distribute a Race to the Top video to capture this sentiment:


Screenshots and quotes from the video accompanied our letter, and we are sharing the video through social media channels and with Race to the Top partnering organizations to build greater community recognition for our application.

The momentum continues. Members of our community are now invited to sign an online petition in support of Minnesota’s application.

With the help of federal Race to the Top money we can continue on the path to offer quality pre-K for all families. As our application demonstrates, Minnesota is committed to accountable, efficient and aligned state systems. This encompasses improved governance and data systems, evidence-based activities that expand Parent Aware – Minnesota’s pre-K rating system – and scholarships, and investments in human capital to provide early childhood educators professional development opportunities.

Minnesota has much to be proud of. Our public schools are some of the best in the country, but our achievement gap is a disservice to the next generation of Minnesotans and jeopardizes our collective future. Our work to rally Minnesota behind Race to the Top is showing application reviewers just how serious our state is about making sure all of our children start their education off right. We are honored to garner community support behind this important opportunity so we can help correct our academic disparities.

Prioritizing public education is a defining characteristic of our state and, rightly so, a source of tremendous pride. Collectively, we are excited to chart the course for the future of Minnesota. That begins with education.


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