Merced County Office of Education

Quality Counts!

​​​​​Improving Early Education Systems

Early Education Special Programs Manager

Early Education Expert

Early Learning Systems Specialists

Phone: (209) 381-6719
Address: 1850 Wardrobe Avenue, Merced, CA 95341
Fax: (209) 381-6745

Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Grant (RTT-ELC)


In December 2011, Merced County was selected as one (1) of sixteen (16) counties in California to participate in the Federal Race to the Top‐Early Learning Challenge Grant (RTT‐ELC.) This is a BIG honor and fabulous opportunity for Merced County. The grantee of the RTT grant for Merced County is the Merced County Office of Education and is working in partnership with First 5 Merced County.

In December 2013, additional funding was made available for counties willing to expand their areas of impact through cross-county mentoring. Mariposa and Madera counties were added to the Quality Counts! to form a regional quality improvement initiative.


"Ensure that children in California have access to high quality programs so that they thrive in their early learning settings and succeed in kindergarten and beyond."

During the grant period (2012-2015) RTT grantees are to develop, field test and revise a Tiered Quality Rating Improvement System (TQRIS) for programs serving children 0‐5 in licensed environments. The system has common elements across the sixteen counties participating in the grant focusing on child development and school readiness, teachers and teaching, and program/environment.

What is a Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS)?

A Quality Rating Improvement System is used to assess, improve and communicate the levels of quality in an early learning programs based upon tiers that establish continuous levels of growth according to standards of quality.  Quality standards include:

  • Licensed and regulated by the State
  • Staff who have specialized early education degrees and participate in ongoing professional development
  • Low adult to child ratios (appropriate group sizes)
  • Developmentally appropriate curriculum, informed by valid and reliable screening and observation tools

The higher the quality standards, the higher the rating for the program! Quality Counts! will use a five-tier system to communicate levels of quality to the community.  Each tier is labeled with a quality descriptor (Emerging Quality, Quality, High Quality, and High Quality Plus) and an associated color code:   Bronze, Silver, and Gold. 

A QRIS supports early learning educators/providers with increased training and support and provides parents/families with information on the type of learning and care their young children receive.  Counties have the flexibility to incorporate additional elements to meet local needs. RTT grantees are to provide a system of supports to participating programs to help them improve their levels of quality over the grant cycle.

 Why is RTT important ?

A high quality early learning experience profoundly shapes a child's ability to succeed in school and in life. Merced, Mariposa, and Madera counties are committed to ensuring that our central valley children have access to high quality early learning education.

Equally important, quality ratings can inform policymakers and the general public about the effectiveness of early education.   Nearly every state in the United States is engaged in some form of a quality rating and improvement system for early education programs.

Who can participate?

Participation in RTT is voluntary by programs.
Programs currently participating are:

(Merced County) Atwater Elementary School District, Delhi Unified School District, Dos Palos Oro Loma Joint Unified School District, Livingston Union School District, Los Banos Unified School District, Merced City School District, Merced College Child Development Center, Merced County Community Action Agency, Merced County Office of Education Early Head Start/Head Start, Stanislaus County Office of Education/Central California Child Development Services, Inc., Winton School District, and at minimum, Twenty (20) Family Child Care Providers

(Mariposa County) Community Action Partnership of Madera County Regional Head Start, Mariposa County First 5 Preschool Programs

(Madera County) Madera County Office of Education, Community Action Partnership of Madera County Regional Head Start , Madera Unified School District, Six (6) Family Child Care Providers


California State Preschool Program (CSPP) Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) Block Grant


California is committed to expanding access to high quality subsidized preschool through support for counties' and regions' quality improvement systems (QIS) and QRIS initiatives like RTT (see above.) Beginning in 2014, California Department of Education (CDE), Early Education and Support Division (EESD) via Propostion 98 funds in the amount of a $50 million as appropriated annually as part of Senate Bill 858, California Eduation Code section 8203.1 "for the support of local early learning quality rating and improvement systems that increase that number low income children in high quality preschool programs that prepare those children for success in school and in life. 


The authorizing Education Code recognizes that some counties and regions may have already "adopted a quality continuum framework" and it's lead administering agency(ies) is "provided the first opportunity to eligible for a QRIS block grant." The CDE-EESD request for application (RFA), these agencies are identified as Priority 1. Quality Counts! is deemed Priority 1 because of the existing QRIS Action Plan on file with CDE-EESD as a result of our RTT participation.


The grantee of the CSPP QRIS block grant for Merced, Mariposa, and Madera Counties is the Merced County Office of Education. Each years grant award depends on the availablity of QRIS block grant Prop 98 funds allocated in the state budget. Funds are ongoing, but in order to be considerd for the grant applications must be submitted and reapproved each year by the grantee.  




Local consortia will provide for local QRIS block grants to California State Preschool Programs (CSPP) sites that have been rated at a quality level of tier 4 or higher (equivalent to Quality Counts! quality indicators, "High Quality" or "High Quality Plus") and to raise the quality of CSPPs not yet at tier 4.   


The block grants awarded to CSPPs are intended to maintain high QRIS rating, e.g., keeping ratios low, paying for qualified staff, supporting strong teacher child interactions and maintaining a quality program.