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Published in Print: August 20, 2014, as Grant Contest Will Boost Aid To State Pre-K

New Grant Contest to Boost Federal Pre-K Aid

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Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia, which have already won federal grants to bolster their early-learning systems—or have robust early-childhood programs in place—could tap into even more money to improve preschool programs, under a new competition announced by the Obama administration last week.

And the other 15 states and Puerto Rico, which are just getting started on their early-learning programs, will be able to compete on a somewhat separate track for a portion of the aid.

The $250 million Preschool Development Grant program, which will be jointly administered by the U.S. departments of Education and Health and Human Services, represents a relatively modest down payment on the administration's much broader $75 billion request for matching grants to help states cover the cost of a major expansion of early-childhood education. The bigger program is likely to go nowhere in a tight-fisted Congress.

Under the new program, financed by Congress earlier this year, the administration will run one $80 million "development" grant competition for states that don't already have robust early-education programs or haven't already won a Race to the Top Early Learning Grant. The other competition will offer $160 million in "expansion" grants to states that already have successful preschool programs or have already received one of those early-learning grants.

Competitive Shot

The two-tiered system is a good way to make sure that all states have a shot at the money, said Laura Bornfreund, the deputy director of the early-learning program at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank.

"It's important to recognize that states are in different places," she said.

She also likes the focus in both grant competitions on quality—including ensuring that preschool teachers receive salaries comparable to those of their K-12 counterparts—and the programs' emphasis on providing strong links between early learning and K-12 so that student gains are sustained.

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Both competitions would give states an edge for agreeing to funnel 50 percent of their grant aid to expanding preschool slots for low-income children.

In both competitions, states would get extra points for coming up with some of their own matching funds.

Applications for the program are due by Oct. 14. Awards will be made in December.

Vol. 34, Issue 01, Page 20

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