Frequently Asked Questions

Informational videos are available at the bottom of this page.

Updated 5/11/22

Notifications have been sent out to applicants who submitted their CIRCLE application prior to 4/14/2022. If you submitted an application prior to 4/14, you should have received a message from our team indicating whether your application will proceed to subsequent stages of review. If you did not receive this communication, please reach out to circle@earlymilestones.org to check on the status of your application.

About CIRCLE Grants

What are CIRCLE Grants? 

The State of Colorado is excited to announce a new grant program that will provide grants to child care providers and other community, education, or governmental partners around the state. The Community Innovation and Resilience for Care and Learning Equity (CIRCLE) Grants will support innovative solutions to tough child care challenges that have been worsened by the pandemic.

What are CIRCLE Grants trying to accomplish? 

CIRCLE Grants will support projects that do one or more of the following:

How much money will be granted?

The state is distributing nearly $23 million in CIRCLE Grants. Individual grants will range from $10,000 to $750,000.

Where is the money from?

The Colorado General Assembly and Gov. Jared Polis created the grant program in 2021 from more than $275 million the state received through the federal American Rescue Plan and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act. The grant is administered by the Office of Early Childhood within the Colorado Department of Human Services.

Who is Early Milestones Colorado?

The Colorado Department of Human Services – Office of Early Childhood selected Early Milestones Colorado to distribute the grants to child care providers and other community, education, or governmental partners. Early Milestones Colorado is a nonprofit organization that advances success for young children by accelerating innovation, the use of best practices, and systemic change.

Eligibility

Who is eligible to apply? 

The grants are available to a range of providers and partners committed to supporting early childhood in Colorado. They include:

  • All licensed child care providers, including family child care homes, child care centers, and school-based child care programs.
  • Child care providers who are considered “qualified exempt” under the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP). These providers include unlicensed family, friend, and neighbor care providers who are set up to receive CCCAP payments.
  • Community, education, or governmental organizations with innovative ideas to support early childhood in Colorado.
  • Community or education organizations operating from out of state are eligible as long as all grant funding supports programs and services within Colorado.

Who is not eligible to apply?

Some entities are unable apply for CIRCLE Grants due to federal and state rules around the funds. These include:

  • Child care providers who are not licensed by the State of Colorado or who are not considered a “qualified exempt provider” through the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program.
  • For-profit businesses that are not licensed by the State of Colorado to provide child care services.

We are a community-based after-school provider that offers CCCAP slots, and we operate in school buildings. Should we apply as a CCCAP provider, a community-based organization, or a school district?

You should apply as a community-based licensed child care center.

Can my organization submit more than one proposal?

There is no limit to the number of proposals for which an entity can participate or be the lead partner organization. However, we strongly recommend submitting proposals for the innovative idea that you feel would be most impactful.

What is the difference between CIRCLE Grants and Stabilization Grants?

The CIRCLE Grant program is a competitive grant program focused on addressing systemic challenges in child care and funding innovative solutions to improve outcomes for children and families. This grant opportunity is open to licensed (or CCCAP qualified exempt) child care providers, Early Childhood Councils, government agencies, and other community-based agencies. The Stabilization grant program is an entitlement grant program only for eligible licensed (or CCCAP qualified exempt) child care providers that provides funding to support operating and workforce expenses for the stabilization program, which is administered by MetrixIQ.

Proposals

What is a Request for Proposals (RFP)?

A request for proposals is an invitation to apply for a grant. In the RFP, you will see clear instructions on how to apply, as well as the minimum information we need to consider your grant proposal.

What do I need to include in my proposal?

The application process will be supportive and as simple as possible. In short, you will need:

  1. A description of the activities you propose that meet the requirements of the grant.
  2. The target population that will benefit from these activities.
  3. A description of any partnerships that you have or will establish to carry out your idea.
  4. A description of how your activities will meet the goals of the grant.
  5. A detailed budget for the activities you propose for the grant.

What are the application categories? 

We are seeking a variety of ideas for this grant opportunity and encourage all innovative ideas that fit into one or more of the following categories:

  • Improving the affordability of child care for families who aren’t served by the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program. Ideas may include reducing the cost of care for families through scholarships or subsidies.
  • Increasing access to child care for children from birth to age 3.
  • Ensuring equitable access for children with special needs
  • Ensuring equitable access for dual language learners
  • Supporting the health, mental health and well-being of children and families
  • Improving early childhood transitions from one setting to another or one service to another
  • Supporting workforce preparation
  • Strengthening business practices
  • Improving other early childhood outcomes or innovative practices. These might include ideas ranging from coaching models, early childhood mental health supports and supporting workers.

Why should I apply?

The CIRCLE Grants are a unique opportunity to advance innovative solutions to tough child care challenges that have been worsened by the pandemic. Everyone who provides child care, or is impacted by child care access, has the potential to help develop a stronger and more supportive system for children, families, and early childhood professionals. Your ideas matter — whether you are a small community organization, a one-person child care provider or you run a network of centers.

Why should I not apply?

There may be another grant opportunity that more closely fits your idea or needs. The Office of Early Childhood currently has several grant opportunities to support child care stability, quality improvement, licensing incentives, training, and professional development, and more. Click here for more information.

What if I’ve never applied for a grant before?

Good! Our goal is to reach and support people who don’t usually receive public or private funding and who have good ideas on how to make child care more accessible and equitable.

Will I be more likely to get a grant if I apply in the first round?

No, both rounds of funding will have applications that are funded and some that don’t align with the goals of the grant or aren’t quite ready to be funded. We will provide feedback to first-round applicants who aren’t funded so they can submit stronger applications in the second round. We are also willing to help grantees complete their applications if needed.

How much grant money should I request?

You should request a reasonable amount that you are able to spend in one year. Take into consideration your capacity, the labor market, the cost of business in your area, and more. Think big, but also think smartly. We want you to be successful.

Am I ready for a project like this?

You tell us. If you believe you can complete all the activities you propose in a year, please tell us how. The idea does not need to be in action yet, but you should be able to explain how you will accomplish your project goals in a year. If you are already working on the activity, you can tell us how long it has been in place and why this investment would help increase your project’s ability to improve child care access.

Are there any grant requirements?

Successful proposals will show a clear willingness to collect and share aggregate data (no personally identifiable information) to show progress during the grant period. Grantees will be asked to submit reports on their progress each quarter. They’ll also participate in any technical assistance to help them be successful, as well as participate in a learning community to share ideas with fellow grantees.

Should I enter a separate grant proposal for each of our locations since they operate out of different locations, and each has a different director?

You are not required to apply separately based on each location if the innovation you are proposing is universal to all locations. If you are addressing a systemic challenge across your centers one proposal makes sense. If you have solutions specific to the particular barriers or populations at different centers, you might consider submitting separate proposals.

Activities

What kind of activities will be funded?

The sky is the limit! We are looking for new or innovative ideas, or improvements to current ways to provide and grow child care options in Colorado. We encourage you to consider the costs of implementing an innovative project and include personnel or substitute time (for providers) in your budget. Here are a few ideas for eligible activities (this is not a comprehensive list — bring additional ideas!):

  • Pilot project to demonstrate to a community how tuition subsidies improve access for families with the most barriers to care due to housing, ability, race, ethnicity, language, income, and more.
  • A deep dive staff training to implement an evidence-based program to promote social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of children.
  • Specialized training for staff to best support children with special needs, English language learners, and children with other backgrounds that can be best supported with specialized skills and knowledge.
  • Designing and implementing a data and evaluation system to support continuous improvement in future years.
  • Support to identify and implement behavior management strategies that promote social emotional development, reduce challenging behaviors, and/or address reduction of expulsions.
  • Setting up a parent advisory group or other ways to engage parents in their child’s development through culturally and linguistically appropriate training or outreach.
  • Redesigning nutrition or physical exercise programs to better meet needs of children to promote healthy development.
  • Supporting family stability and child development by connecting parents of children in a child care program to community and public resources to support financial success.
  • Building a local or regional network of community and family child care providers to exchange ideas, pool resources and refer families to open child care slots.
  • Improving the quality of care through training, technical assistance, coaching, and support for developmentally appropriate care – especially for infants and toddlers.
  • Network infant and toddler specialists and early intervention specialists to more easily connect to providers in need of their expertise.
  • Develop guides for parents in specific communities (by language, culture, religion, region, etc.) to be able to recognize high quality child care – and how to find and navigate wait lists.

What kind of activities will not be funded?

Since this is public federal funding, we cannot accept proposals for partisan political activities such as lobbying or campaigning. Additionally, capital construction costs will not be covered.

What is an example of making child care more affordable?

You can apply for tuition scholarships for families in your program, but remember this is a one-year grant and families should understand that the scholarships will end. Your proposal might include collecting feedback and data from families during this time to understand how the scholarships affected them. You could use that information to educate decision makers in your community about the impact that scholarships had on families, your community, local workforce, etc.

What is an example of strengthening a providers’ business practices to be more financially sustainable?

This could take many forms. What is something you’ve always wanted to undertake or implement to make your child care business more efficient or stable? This could look like hiring an expert to overhaul an internal system like bookkeeping, food systems, or communications so you can spend more time or resources on providing child care. You know your business or program best–we just need to hear how it will help make child care in your community more stable and accessible to families in the long run.

What are some examples of supporting the health and well-being of children and families?

This could be an opportunity to implement wrap-around services for your families that help them with overall well-being. You could use this money to identify a program and implement it through training for yourself or your staff. Programs might include improving nutrition at your site, better supporting children with special needs or who are learning English, and more. Very minor physical space improvements are allowed if it will help you meet safety and health standards; please see the questions in this FAQ on capital construction for more details.

What are examples of boosting child care workforce preparation?

We welcome all ideas for supporting Colorado’s child care workforce. These might include training for specific skills, supporting individuals seeking education, or support for licensure.

Can organizations that are typically lobbying organizations apply for strategies that are not lobbying?

The federal restrictions on lobbying are related to the activities, not the organization type. It would need to be very clear that the activities funded through this grant could in no way be considered influencing.  Please see 45 CFR for more information https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-45/part-93 or https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-45/subtitle-A/subchapter-A/part-75#75.450

Allowable Expenditures

Can I use grant funds for capital construction costs?

No, these funds cannot be used for capital construction costs. However, we encourage submissions for other start-up costs related to increasing access to child care. This might look like purchasing materials and recruiting, hiring, and training staff for a new program.

Would a down payment on a new building be eligible?

No, federal funding rules don’t allow these grants to be used to purchase property or buildings.

Can this grant be used for after school or school-age summer camp child care programs?

Yes, after school programs and school-age summer camps can apply for this funding.

However, although projects addressing child care for school aged children are allowable, CIRCLE focuses on early learning and care. To be competitive, projects serving school-aged children should take extra care to emphasize what is innovative and sets your project apart.

Should I apply to this grant for air purification?

There will be a grant opportunity coming up specifically for air purification. The Indoor Air Quality Grant will be administered by MetrixIQ, the vendor who is administering the Child Care Stabilization Grant program. That grant opportunity is expected to open by Sept. 30, 2022.

Are nominal capital costs allowed if they are necessary to the implementation of an innovative idea that addresses one or more systemic challenge?

The federal guidelines we follow say the money can’t be used for construction or purchase of new facilities and major renovations. The funds can be used to support facility improvements and minor building renovations if necessary to meet health and safety standards. Examples such as landscaping and playground equipment are minor renovations and are allowed.

Can I request funds for a playground?

If requesting a playground be very clear about how it is innovative and meets one of the systemic challenges.  Ensure that you complete all fields in the application no matter the focus of your project.

Is knocking down a wall a minor or major renovation?

Knocking down a wall or other structural change would be considered a major renovation and isn’t allowed, sorry. In general, a major renovation means any structural changes to the foundation, roof, floor, exterior or load-bearing walls of a facility. Also considered major: An extension of a facility to increase its floor area or an extensive alteration of a facility to significantly change its function and purpose, even if the renovation does not include any structural change.

Can this grant be used to provide subgrants to child care providers for operations?

No. The purpose of this grant is to address systemic challenges in child care and funding innovative solutions to improve outcomes for children and families. It is not a grant program to fund recurring operations.

Is sub-contracting allowed?

Yes, subcontracts are allowed for services provided to the program.

Is food for gatherings or meetings with families an allowable expense?

Yes, with limitations. The food expenses should be related to programs and you should clearly explain how it advances the goals of your proposal. You will also need prior approval before spending money in this area so we can make sure the expenses can be fully reimbursed.

Does a shed or other external small structure for storing toys and equipment be an allowed expense? 

If the shed doesn’t meet any of the criteria for a major renovation (see above) then it should be allowed. However, your plan should clearly explain why the shed is needed and how it advances the goals of your application.

Are shading structures or pergolas for backyards so children are able to spend more time outside an allowable expense?

Yes, assuming that these structures don’t meet any of the criteria for a major renovation (see above). You will need to make a clear case for why these expenses are needed and why they advance the goals of your proposal.

Is purchasing hypoallergenic carpeting for children with asthma and allergies an allowable expense? How about sinks for an infant a toddler room?

Yes, these funds may be used to support facility improvements and minor building renovations (see above for definitions between major and minor renovations) if necessary to meet health and safety standards. You will need to clearly explain how what you are proposing is a minor renovation and make a clear case for why these expenses are needed and why they advance the goals of your proposal.

Can we hire a grant writer to help raise fund for a capital expense, and/or for planning to increase capacity for infant and toddler care?

In general, these funds should be used for program expenses only. Grant writing is generally considered an administrative expense. You would need to demonstrate how hiring a grant writer or planning consultant is a programmatic expense—and how it advances the goals of your proposal.

Can we use these funds to purchase materials for a site that isn’t open yet and store them for later?

Yes, you may “pre-purchase” materials for a future site with these funds, but you’ll need to show you have a plan to keep an inventory of these purchased items in the event the site doesn’t open and materials need to be returned, or directed to another site. You will also need to make a clear case for why these expenses are needed and why they advance the goals of your proposal. 

Is the cost of labor for planning the construction of a future site (legal, engineering, etc) allowable?
No, all the costs related to a capital project, including design and planning, are considered part of the cost of acquiring a new site and are considered a capital expense.

We had an idea to offer discounts and free care via scholarships to families at our schools. I do not, however, see a line on the budget that this expense could be calculated. Would this be an acceptable use of funding?

Yes, scholarships are allowed. We suggest uploading an additional document that details your process for calculating the scholarships

Are pavers (or other minor improvements) eligible?

Yes, pavers would be allowable as a minor capital renovation. Make sure your proposal details how the daily health and safety of children will be addressed by this improvement. Does the path allow you to do additional activities outside? Would it be a selling point for parents who are looking for high quality care? Think of all the ways that it would improve your program, how could you learn from this addition and be willing to share with other family child care homes? Did the addition allow you to participate in creative activities you couldn’t otherwise? Could you share those same learnings with others? Answering questions like these will make your application stronger.

If I get a grant, can I use it to pay for expenses that have already happened? 

The CIRCLE grant funds can only be used for project expenses that happen during the grant period (June 15, 2022 – June 30, 2023).

Can I use CIRCLE grant funding for the purchase of vehicles including buses, vans, cars, trucks, etc? 

No, these funds cannot be used to purchase vehicles.

Partnerships

What constitutes a “partnership,” and what are the roles of the partners? 

We are looking for active partnerships that support child care innovation and access. Generally, these will include partnerships that have already been working to address challenges in your community or across the state. We believe that part of what makes innovative projects successful is the shared commitment to change and the connections and ideas continuously exchanged among experts and people with varied skills, resources, and experiences. The roles that partners play in your project will vary based upon need, approach, etc. Proposals that demonstrate partnership with racially and ethnically diverse communities will be prioritized.

Are partnerships required?

Partnerships are encouraged but not required. Grantees may be connected with others doing similar work in order to accelerate or spark innovation. Proposals do not need to include letters of support from partners, local champions, or other experts.

Intent to Apply

What is the “intent to apply” for?

We are asking applicants to submit a brief “intent to apply” form before each round. We strongly encourage submitting this, so we have an idea of the variety of entities who are working on applications.

Is the “intent to apply” required?

You may still apply if you don’t submit the “intent to apply” form.

Do we need to submit an “intent to apply” more than once if we are submitting more than one application?
Submitting an “intent to apply” form for each application would be helpful for us to know the range of applications we should expect. The “intent to apply” is not required to apply but is very appreciated.

Project Selection

How will projects be selected for awards? 

All proposals will be reviewed, scored, and discussed by a diverse panel of subject matter experts.

What are the criteria for selection? 

The full Request for Proposals (RFP) will provide guidance and insight into what a successful project will include. In general, we are looking for innovative projects and partnerships that have the most potential to be implemented and achieve impact with one year of project funding.

Successful proposals will define a target population that will benefit from the project and include clear strategies and timelines for activities. We are also looking for proposals for clear statements of outcomes (what result is expected), sustainability (how the impact will continue beyond the project), equity (how the project will remove barriers for populations with the most challenges), and community role (how your program serves children and families in the community).

Grant Awards and Future Funding

Is there a total amount of funding allocated to each category? 

No. Selection will be based on the projects and partners with innovative ideas and the potential for making an impact.

How many awards will be made? 

The number of awards depends on the type and size of awards funded. Grants will be selected that meet the criteria in the request for proposals and show greatest potential for change in these areas:

  • Make child care more affordable.
  • Fill gaps in infant and toddler care.
  • Strengthen child care providers’ business practices to make them financially sustainable.
  • Support the health and well-being of children and families.
  • Boost child care workforce preparation.
  • Contribute to the health and learning of all children, including those with special needs and dual-language learners.

Is the funding allocation for each round of application the same, or is there some advantage to applying in the first round of funding?

The funding allocation in each round is not the same. We anticipate that larger organizations who typically respond to RFPs will apply in the first round and that providers or smaller organizations may need more time to consider their innovative ideas and will apply in the second. We are available to help first- and second-round applicants refine their proposals to ensure they meet all the requirements.

Can we apply in more than one round?

Potential grantees may apply for more than one grant if they have the capacity to implement their innovative projects within the time frame of one year.

How will I receive the grants – before, during, or after activities?

This grant is a reimbursable grant, which means the grantee will receive funds after providing basic documentation of expenses. More details to come.

Who would we be contracting for this grant?

All contracts with grantees will be made with Early Milestones Colorado

Application Support

What is technical assistance and how can it help me?

Early Milestones Colorado staff are here to help you submit a successful application. Please reach out if you have questions or need extra support. Our web page for the CIRCLE Grants will soon have short videos and other support materials. In addition, we will offer “office hours” where you can drop in and ask questions or receive guidance.

Can I see the full application before I apply?

Yes, you can see the full application here.

Do I need a license number to apply as a center?

Yes, if you are applying as a center, you need to have a license. If you are waiting on a license number you should apply for the second round of funding.

Would a new child care center be eligible?

If you have a license number you are eligible to apply. Note that start-up costs (materials, equipment) must meet the requirements of the grant. Applications must focus on equity and how they will address the systemic challenges listed in the grant.

Can I use my own budget?

You will need to provide a detailed budget using the template provided. As a reminder, your budget narrative should speak to why you are requesting it. A list of just items you’d like will not be sufficient but how you will use those items to address the systemic challenges you identified as barriers.

Can you provide feedback on an application?

Milestones is unable to provide specific feedback on applications. If you aren’t funded in the first round you will receive information on why you weren’t funded and how to revise for the second round. You can sign up for office hours before submitting your application (when they are scheduled) for the second round of funding.

What is technical assistance for grantees?

Technical assistance is provided by Milestones to help grantees implement their projects. For example, we may meet with you to discuss learnings from your project such as what’s going well and what could be adjusted for improvement. Milestones staff may suggest technical assistance such as collaborative learning communities, discussion groups within a cohort of similar innovations, etc.

Do you anticipate you will need Early Milestones to facilitate connections with early childhood partners in Colorado?

We are eager to make connections among grantees and early childhood organizations in the state. Please let us know if you would benefit from being a part of a learning community or if you would welcome assistance when things aren’t going as planned.

Should I submit one or two applications for two different ideas?

It’s up to you depending on what you would like to submit. If the ideas are very different you may want to consider two applications.

Application pointers

  • Applications with budgets over $750,000 or with unreasonable requests will not be reviewed. Please keep budgets at or below the maximum and ensure the requested amount can reasonably be spent within the one-year grant window. An excessive amount to be spent at the end of the grant (example 200k in June 2023) would be considered risky.
  • Don’t forget to include a narrative for each line item in your budget. Our reviewers need to see what is being purchased to ensure they are allowable expenses. For example, $200,000 for “supplies” is not enough information. We need to know what kind of supplies and for what purpose.
  • Applications with missing fields can’t be reviewed—make sure you fill out the application completely.
  • If you are having issues signing your application, please use the mouse or keypad, not the keyboard (initials) or an electronic signature. If you are using a Mac, try using two fingers on the keypad.
  • On the last page of the main application you’ll see a place to upload a text or Word documents. Additional materials are not required, but if you would like to upload another document, please note in your text boxes that you have an additional attachment.
  • Accidentally submitted to soon or forgot something? It is best to resubmit your application and send a note to Circle@earlymilestones.org or call 720-853-3512 to request the first application be deleted.

Key Dates

When is the grant period?

All awarded applicants, whether awarded in the first or second round, will have from June 15, 2022, through June 30, 2023, to receive funding for and complete their grant activities.

When will the Request for Proposals be released?

The RFP was released March 15 for the first round of grants.

When are proposals due?

Intent to Apply: An Intent to apply for the second round is due May 12, 2022.

Submission Deadline:  Proposals for round two must be submitted by 5:00 pm MST on May 23, 2022.

For More Information

Who should I contact for more information? 

More information can be found at earlymilestones.org/project/circle-grants, including the Request for Proposals; required proposal documents; and a link to submit further questions about this opportunity.

Early Milestones is adding office hours on a regular basis. You can register for a 15 minute session here.

Have a question that isn’t answered here? Please send it to: Circle@earlymilestones.org or text or call 720-853-3512

Have a question that isn’t answered here? Please submit it via the form below or send it to circle@earlymilestones.org. This list will be updated frequently as we receive questions, so please check back to see if your questions have been answered.

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Informational Videos

About CIRCLE Grants

Navigating the Application

 

CIRCLE Budget