As the Education Dept. readies a second year of the $250 million Preschool Development Grant competition, it is promoting a new report that details the unmet need across the country for high-quality preschool programs.
According to the report, “A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America,” of the approximately 4 million 4-year olds in the United States, about 60% – or nearly 2.5 million – are not enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs, including state preschool programs, Head Start and programs serving children with disabilities. Even fewer are enrolled in the highest-quality programs.
The report highlights the need for an Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that expands access to high-quality early learning opportunities and makes the law preschool through 12th grade, rather than K-12, ED Secy. Arne Duncan said in a speech at the Martin Luther King Jr. Early Childhood Center in Phoenix.
“This new report shows that we are a long way from achieving full educational opportunity in this country. Students have made enormous progress in recent years, but we have so much farther to go,” Duncan says.
Advances in science and research have proven the impact that preschool programs can have on children’s learning, but unfortunately too many children still do not have access to these programs. Hispanics are the United States’ fastest growing and largest minority group, making up a quarter of 3- and 4-year-olds, yet they have the lowest preschool participation rates of any major ethnicity or race – 40% as compared to 50% for African-American children, and 53% for white children.
In addition, children from low-income families are less likely to be enrolled in preschool than their peers – 41% compared to 61%. African-American children and children from low-income families are the most likely to be in low-quality settings and the least likely to be in high-quality settings. All children need access to high-quality preschool to prepare them for kindergarten and to close the achievement gaps
For some children when they enter kindergarten, huge educational gaps exist. White students have higher reading and math scores than students of color. Scores on reading and math were lowest for kindergartners in households with incomes below the federal poverty level and highest for those in households with incomes at or above 200% of the federal poverty level. Children at risk for academic failure start kindergarten 12 to 14 months behind their peers in pre-literacy and language skills, the report said.
The Obama administration will receive $250 million for a second year of the program. The program originally was described as an extension of the Race to the Top series, but was given another name when it was clear that Congress would not favor an extension of the grants into FY 2015. Whatever name it goes by, the competition seeks to make wholesale changes in the way education programs are delivered on the state level, with a focus on early childhood education. And, the grants have been warmly received and hotly contested by the states.
The Preschool Development Grant competition (CFDA Number: 84.419) is part of a larger effort to offer pre-K to more 4-year-olds. It has two categories: one to low-capacity or rural states with small or no state-funded preschool programs (Development Grants); and another to high-capacity states with established programs or that have received Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants (Expansion Grants). They are jointly administered by the Education Dept. and HHS.
- Development Grants (awards ranging from $2 million to $20 million per year over four years): To be eligible states must serve less than 10% percent of four-year-olds and have not received an RTT-ELC grant. Up to 35% of the grant award may be used for state-level infrastructure and quality improvements. Last year five states won: Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, Montana and Nevada.
- Expansion Grants (awards ranging from $2 million to $20 million a year for four years): These grants will help states address fundamental needs including workforce development, quality improvement efforts and the scale-up of proven preschool models. Last year, 13 states won: Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.
ED officials say to expect a solicitation later this year, probably in the summer, with a fall deadline. Last year’s deadline was Oct. 24; (most recent NOFA).