Arkansas Department of Education Division of Elementary and Secondary Education Early Childhood Lead Organizations: Request for Applications

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Deputy Commissioner
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A. The Establishment of Local Early Childhood Lead Organizations

In order to address challenges in access and quality for early care and education, LEARNS set a vision for a unified early childhood system that ensures every young Arkansan enters kindergarten ready to learn. To build a system that works for children, families, providers, and the workforce, the LEARNS Act stipulates that the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) appoint and partner with local early childhood lead organizations. These local organizations will serve as the formal state-local implementation partners to execute the state’s early childhood plan in a manner that responds to local context. 

LEARNS calls for full implementation of local early childhood lead organizations by October 1, 2024. ADE will pilot this work with a subset of communities in the 2023-2024 school year. 

B. Expectations for Local Early Childhood Lead Organizations 

Through this Request for Applications (RFA), ADE seeks to identify and fund local early childhood lead organizations to pilot this model in the 2023-2024 academic year. 

In this pilot year, local early childhood lead organizations must: 

  • Establish a comprehensive, locally supported plan for supporting early childhood programs and services within the community 
  • Serve as the designated early childhood captain for the community 
  • Conduct stakeholder engagement and support local partnerships 
  • Coordinate an early childhood information campaign in the community 
  • Coordinate and report required data including an unduplicated count of children birth-to-five served by publicly-funded partners in the community 
  • Serve as the planning entity for any additional early childhood grants released by the ADE 

A complete list of assurances that details the requirements of this work can be found in Part 4 of the application. 

C. Funding for Local Early Childhood Lead Organizations 

Funding for local leads will vary based on the size of their community including the number of children and providers in the catchment area. At a minimum, each selected local lead organization will receive a minimum of $80,000 annually to perform the expected responsibilities. Satisfactory execution of responsibilities during Year 1 (2023-2024) may lead to a continued designation as the lead for two (2) additional years or a total of three (3) years overall.



A. Eligible Applicants 

Any public agency, local public school system, Arkansas-based nonprofit organization or business with an educational or social services mission, or education co-op may apply. To account for the diversity of the state’s regions and community-based leadership, the local early childhood lead will not necessarily be the same type of entity in every corner of the state, nor will every catchment area be defined by the same boundaries. 

Applicants will designate in their application their proposed boundary for the catchment area. A catchment area can be no smaller than a county and no larger than an education service cooperative. Each applicant will determine their proposed catchment area to captain, and each will consider what works best for their context. For example, it is possible that in more populated regions of the state, an organization will apply on behalf of a single county. In other situations, neighboring rural counties may band together in a single application under a one entity that will captain the work. 

B. How to Apply 

The application has four parts that are included in the attached application template. Applications must be submitted as a single document (including any scanned attachments) by September 29, 

Part 1 – Local Early Childhood Lead Organization Applicant Profile: Applicants must complete the applicant profile, which includes the proposed boundary for the catchment area of coverage. 

Part 2 – Rationale and Evidence for Designation as Local Early Childhood Lead Organization: Applicants must describe why their organization is suited to serve as the local lead for the community. 

Part 3 – Partner Support: Applicants must demonstrate support from local partners. This may include letters of support or signatures on a letter of support template.

Required signatures include early childhood providers (including ABC providers), Head Start grantees, and school districts. (Applicants can use the Child Care Search tool to find all licensed providers in their catchment area). As possible, applicants should engage and include local early childhood special education providers, Child Care Aware, education service cooperatives, home visiting programs (if available in the community), and other local nonprofits or organizations

Part 4 – Local Early Childhood Lead Organization Applicant Assurances: The chief administrator of the applying entity must review and sign these assurances. 

C. Application Deadline and Other Important Date

Scan the template with any attachments and submit as one document by September 29, 2023 to

August 25, 2023 Application template released 

September 13, 2023 Informational webinar for interested applicants 

September 29, 2023 Applications must be submitted by 4:30 p.m. to 

October 18, 2023 Applicants notified of selection 

November 1, 2023 Mandatory kickoff webinar 

D. Selection Process 

All applications will be reviewed for completeness, and selection criteria will determine whether the applicant has the capacity to fulfill the responsibilities. Interviews or additional application rounds may be conducted as part of the selection process. Successful applicants will be notified via email by November 1 once selections are made. 

Selection criteria includes:

  • Demonstration of community support and ability to support partnerships
  • Proposed catchment areas
  • Quality of the applicant’s rationale and evidence for successfully implementing the local lead model
  • Evidence of successfully managing a similar project

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