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COVID-19 Early Childhood Grants

Minnesota Department of Education Early Childhood Grant Opportunity

Grants Support Distance Learning for Vulnerable Children and Early Childhood Education Training 

In August 2020, the Initiative Foundation was awarded $416,000 from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund to create a series of three grant cycles. The grant application for the second of three rounds of funding is now available. Applications will be accepted until 4 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. See the grant awards from the first round here

The overarching goal of these grants is to support early childhood programming that benefits children birth to 8 who are adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including illness, economic displacement and the interruption of educational and/or development supports.

Emphasis for the second round of grants will be placed on equity in support of underserved communities, including areas of concentrated poverty, ethnic minorities and/or English-as-a-second-language, disabled individuals and/or those in rural areas who lack access to basic early childhood educational services. The Initiative Foundation seeks to support at least one grant in each of the 14 counties within the Initiative Foundation service area. However, the primary criteria for evaluating applications will be how many vulnerable children are receiving support per dollar. 

This second cycle of grants will support projects that offer training for early childhood educators and child care providers, learning kits for preschool students and support for programming and technology materials for distance learning.

A new category of grant for distance learning has been created so that entities serving fewer than 50 children can compete. For this grant cycle, the $1,000 grants for safety enhancements has been eliminated. 

Grants will provide immediate support for educational programming:

  • Up to six grants of $15,000 to support distance learning for large groups of vulnerable children

Grants will also support mental health services or support for educators or providers; social, emotional and physical health supports for early childhood professionals and children; and training and development to more effectively operate and address student needs during the pandemic.

  • Four grants of $5,000 will be awarded to support regional training that supports multiple sites or cohorts
  • Five grants of $2,500 to support community-level training for child care providers and educators
An additional $30,000 will be distributed across other categories.

No applicant will receive funding in more than one area during any of the three planned grant cycles. The Initiative Foundation will make every effort to award grants in each of the 14 counties it serves to support a geographically diverse approach.

Timing for Future Grant Round

A third grant round will occur during spring 2021 with the goal of completing all projects by August 2022. 

Grants Must Support Central Minnesota Children

Applicants must demonstrate that all funds will be used to support or otherwise benefit children (ages birth to 8) within the Initiative Foundation’s 14-county service area: Benton, Cass, Chisago, Crow Wing, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Wadena and Wright counties and the sovereign tribal nations of the Leech Lake and Mille Lacs Bands of Ojibwe. Funding requests for use outside of this geography will not be considered. Individuals are not eligible to apply for grant funds.

School districts are eligible to apply but may wish to explore MDE funding exclusively available to schools.

Likewise, regional Leech Lake and the Mille Lacs Bands of Ojibwe tribal nations are eligible but should also explore the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council’s Covid-19 web page or the MDE website for additional opportunities.

Gather Your Grant Application Information

Information required in each application:

  • Applicant should determine which of the five categories they seek to support
  • Number of children served (projected)
  • A list of vulnerable populations served (e.g. rural, low-income, foster care, racial/ethnic minority, etc.)
  • Number of providers/educators trained (where applicable)
  • Impact of funding on target population (qualitative statement)
  • Any additional funds leveraged (in instances when these funds help secure additional support or from the grant/financial report provided by the applicant organization)
  • Lessons learned (key learnings from the project or what the recipient would do differently or advise others if they were to attempt a similar effort)

Target population should be expressed as goals, and must be documented in final (closeout) reports, including numbers serving in the following categories:

  • Low-income students
  • Students with disabilities
  • English learners
  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • Migrant students
  • Students experiencing homelessness
  • Children in foster care
  • Rural students disproportionately impacted by pandemic

Apply Here

Early Childhood in Crucial Need of Support

Over the past decade, rural Minnesota communities have lost many early childhood providers and educators. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more of these professionals face challenges to stay in the field. Resources for training, social-emotional and physical health supports and new distance learning programs are greatly needed. However, little or no funding is available.

Since March 2020, the Initiative Foundation has been working during the pandemic to support the child care field throughout Central Minnesota. Requests from providers and educators continue to rise, increasing the demand for additional funds.

The service region of the Initiative Foundation has a population of more than 750,000, and the focus of these grant cycles will be on the underserved populations most impacted by the pandemic. Because of the large, varied region we serve, we know the importance of the right-sized solutions in each community due to their diversity, poverty, health equity and other barriers.

Data from Minnesota Compass indicates that Central Minnesota has an average poverty rate for children (ages birth to 5) of 9.4 percent. However, 10 of the region’s 14 counties—those beyond the Twin Cities metropolitan ring counties—have rates in the 10 to 15 percent range.

The pandemic has exposed dramatic disparities across our communities, with some families impacted only by the “change of habit” of now working remotely while others face job losses, housing and/or food insecurity, and even more limited access to health care. One example is households where a family member works in a meat-packing facility (a workforce nearly entirely Latinx or East African). As one elder noted, “We live in large families in small quarters; when one family member becomes sick it spreads to everyone.”

Many child care professionals were severely impacted by the governor’s stay-at-home orders as parents pulled their children from child care and/or struggled to make payments. Low-income households also are affected by loss of access to school- and child care-based nutritional programs, and many lack access to internet, which has been the primary tool for supporting distance learning.

“These three grant rounds are designed to fund a wide range of activities, from distance learning and summer programs to programs that support the mental health of childcare providers to training on how to talk to kids about the pandemic and basic supplies to clean and sterilize child care facilities,” said Don Hickman, Initiative Foundation vice president for workforce and community development. “The bottom line is that we need to support our underserved communities and deliver real, meaningful resources to bridge the gaps, especially for those who lack access to basic early childhood educational services.”



 Don Hickman
Vice President for Community
 Workforce Development
(320) 631-2043


Jessy Beto
Program Specialist

(320) 631-2057