Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that 35 states and Puerto Rico are applying for federal Preschool Development Grants. The program will distribute $250 million in funding to “25 high-need communities in approximately 12-15 states.”
This welcome announcement shows a sweeping national desire to invest in preschool programs that help children thrive.
The goal of these grants is to help states build, develop, and expand “voluntary, high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities for children from low- and moderate-income families,” according to a press release.
Jointly administered by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, the grants “will lay the groundwork to ensure that more states are ready to participate in the Preschool for All initiative proposed by the Obama Administration.”
Across the States
Nine states, including New Hampshire, are applying for the program’s “development” grants, designed for states with little or no preschool infrastructure. And 27 states, including Massachusetts, are applying for “expansion” grants to build on preschool efforts that are already in place.
This week, Tom Weber, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, told us, “The commonwealth’s Preschool Expansion Grant proposal would provide more than 750 4-year-olds in five high-need communities with a high-quality preschool experience.”
He adds: “The proposed model builds on a decade of quality advancements by EEC and the field, tightly aligning local EEC-licensed programs with the public schools behind the common goal of providing our young learners with a strong foundation for lifelong success.”
In California, the grant application “emphasizes inclusive preschools: high-quality programs and supports for children, including those with diverse needs such as children with individual education programs, English learners, and migrant children,” according to the Pasadena Independent.
In Indiana, Governor Mike Pence decided not to apply for the federal grant. In a statement quoted in The Indianapolis Star Tribune, he says: “Federal funding does not guarantee success. This is not about the money; it’s about our children, and we have an obligation to get it right.”
Others disagree, the newspaper adds, reporting, “Many major early childhood education supporters, including large Indiana businesses Eli Lilly and Co. and Kroger, said Pence erred in stepping away from the grant opportunity.”
And in Missouri: “… we know that there are families with need in every community obviously, but there are concentrated areas of need in both of the major urban areas, in Kansas City and St. Louis, and then in the southeast corner of Missouri in the bootheel region, that’s where the majority of our high-needs communities we identified are,” Stacey Preis, Missouri’s Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Early and Extended Learning told public radio station KBIA. “If we’re able to reach all of the children that we have estimated that there is a need to be served, it would be just under 2,000.”
The Federal Perspective
“Expanding access to high-quality preschool is the single most important step we can take to improve the future of our children,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in the press release.
“The brain research is clear: investing in the earliest years is critical for our children and our future economy,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell added. “Preschool Development Grants along with Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships and Home Visiting programs will help provide more children with the building blocks of healthy and productive lives.”