Efforts to reform early-childhood education in Minnesota appeared to be fizzling earlier this year.

The business group leading the charge to improve child care -- and boost the number of kids ready for kindergarten -- was preparing to shut down.

And the group's top recommendation -- to fund a child care rating system so families could choose top facilities -- was not adopted by the Legislature.

Turns out, it was just a speed bump. Now Minnesota is back on track as a national leader in child care reform. The state just received three federal grants to fund the ratings system and scholarships for poor kids, and expand support services for children and families.

"We had no idea we were going to get the trifecta," said Art Rolnick, who advocated for child care reform as a top official with the Federal Reserve Bank and now as a University of Minnesota professor. "This is the kind of thing you dream about, to be able to work on this kind of an issue and to have this kind of an impact."

First came a $45 million Race to the Top grant that, among other things, will fund the ratings system and scholarships. Research by the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation found that these tools worked in tandem to give needy families the knowledge and resources to choose quality preschools.

Rolnick said the ratings, tested in four Minnesota communities through $10 million in private investment, motivated child care providers to upgrade their facilities as well.

Then, on Monday came a $28 million Promise Neighborhood grant that will seek to boost school performance in north Minneapolis by funding improvements to neighborhoods and preschools and support services for low-income families.

On Wednesday, the U of M's Arthur Reynolds gained $15 million to expand an approach used in Chicago that shrinks class sizes for at-risk children from preschool through third grade, and provides home visits and support for their families.

The program will expand to St. Paul and Virginia, Minn.

jolson@startribune.com. • 612-673-7744