Almost every state has now been awarded a share of a federal grant intended to help pay for strategic planning in its early-childhood system.
The Preschool Development Grants, which were awarded last month, have the same name as when they first started under the Obama administration. And, for the first grant cycle, they’ve been funded at $250 million, just as the Obama-era grant program was.
But almost nothing else is the same.
The program has been moved from the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education to the Department of Health and Human Services. The older program was intended to help states expand or create preschool programs for 4-year-olds from low-income families, while the new program aims to help states with activities such as building partnerships among different entities such as Head Start, state and local agencies. The new program also supports sharing best practices among providers, and maximizing parental choice and knowledge about early-childhood options.
The old program said that if states gave grant money to local districts or early-childhood providers, those organizations had to form strong partnerships with one another. The new grant program has no such requirement.
The new grant awards range from $538,000 to $10.6 million, and were awarded to 44 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Only Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming did not receive money through the new grant program. In announcing the grants, the Health and Human Services Department did not indicate if any state applications were rejected.
The older preschool development grants were awarded to only 18 states, and the individual grant awards ranged from $2 million to $25 million. Tennessee, which did not receive funding this time around, was a recipient through the older grant program.
Since all states have young children, “taking stock and figuring out what the needs are is an important exercise,” said Laura Bornfreund, the director of early and elementary education policy with the think tank New America. The question still to be answered, however, is how states can sustain that work, she said.
Using the Money
Alabama received a $10.6 million grant this time around, among nine states that received more than $10 million. The state was also one of the 18 that received money from the older program, which it used to develop its preschool program.
Jeana Ross, the secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, said this money will help strengthen the state’s birth-through-5 early-childhood initiatives. Among the state’s plans are to do an extensive needs assessment, “so we can see what we have, and where the gaps may be,” Ross said. “Then we can create a real strategic plan that would be relevant to anyone who would be providing birth-to-5 resources and supports for children.”
The Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness got a little over $3 million through the new grant program, and plans to use the money to accelerate its work in helping state entities collaborate with one another, said Debra Andersen, the organization’s executive director. It will also help support professional development and capacity building.
Getting parents involved is also a key goal, she said. “We’re going to build on some work we’ve been doing to get the family voice much stronger into the planning process,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2019 edition of Education Week as States Reap Federal Preschool Grants