Preschool Development Grants Funded for Third Year; Fourth Year in Question

By Christina A. Samuels — November 30, 2016 2 min read
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The Department of Education rolled out nearly $250 million today to the 18 states had been awarded grants to start or expand state-funded preschool back in 2014. That makes a total of about $710 million that those states have received to either expand their current state prekindergarten programs or to get a prekindergarten program off the ground.

The grantee states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia.

The Obama administration intended for the Preschool Development Grants to last for four years, and funding for the last year of grant program is in the budget that the Obama administration developed for fiscal 2017. But the money has yet to be appropriated, and it is an open question whether federal support of state preschool will be a priority for the new Congress and presidential administration the way it clearly was for the current administration. The Obama administration saw preschool development grants as a down payment on a broader “Preschool for All” initiative.

In a recent interview with Education Week, Libby Doggett, deputy assistant secretary for policy and early learning, said that the program clearly was appreciated by the states, judging by how many states applied for the funds.

“You had 36 states apply, and we didn’t have enough [money] to spread it around. States have asked the federal government for more funding, and if you look at the amount of money going into early learning, it’s too little,” she said.

Preschool development grants will live on in a program that has the same name and is included in the Every Student Succeeds Act. But the new preschool development grants that may be funded after this award cycle is over will have much looser requirements than the current program, and will be jointly managed by the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. The new preschool grant program is also dependent on additional money from Congress. (Vice President-elect Mike Pence did not allow Indiana to apply for the first round of grants, but in a letter to the administration written in June he said that Indiana would be happy to be considered for the new program contained in ESSA.)

The uncertain future has not stopped the administration from touting the work that it says states have already accomplished through the current preschool grant program. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. visited a Baltimore preschool classroom Wednesday to speak about the importance of early learning and the continuance of the administration’s efforts.

“There’s a growing national consensus around the importance of investment in early learning,” he said.

The department also released progress reports on what states have done thus far with their preschool expansion or start-up funds. Among the highlights in the report: 28,000 more high-quality prekindergarten slots were available because of the grants; teachers had greater access to mentoring and coaching; and states focused on aligning standards, curricula and practices from birth through 3rd grade.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.