Minnesota is back in the race. In its second attempt to win competitive federal grants, the Minnesota Department of Education submitted an application Wednesday for a $45 million boost to early education statewide.

More than 30 other states have submitted their own bids for a piece of $500 million in federal Race to the Top grants for early education, Minnesota Department of Education spokeswoman Charlene Briner said.

"We believe we submitted a strong application," she said. "It would be a huge accelerator [to early education programs]."

Wednesday's application follows the state's failed bid in 2010 for part of $4 billion in the federal sweepstakes to boost student achievement. The state didn't apply for a second round following political wrangling over the measures needed to strengthen the bid.

Then this summer, the U.S. Department of Education announced a third round of federal grants totaling $700 million, $500 million of which is up for grabs for states that focus on early learning.

In the past six weeks, Briner said thousands of experts and families weighed in on the department's application, with help from the state Department of Health, state Department of Human Services and the United Way.

"It's such a fragmented system," she said about the public and private sectors of early education. "This brought people together."

If Minnesota is awarded the $45 million, the money would go toward, among other things, expanding early education programs in high-poverty communities, ramping up professional development and increasing accountability -- largely with a data system that rates early learning providers. Minnesota is currently piloting a rating system, which about half of the states have.

Winning states will be notified in December.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141