Funding, Grants & Awards | News

ED and HHS Open $250 Million Competitive Grant Program for Preschool Funding

States have just two months to put together proposals for building or expanding preschool programs in order to compete for some of the $250 million the feds are making available in a new Preschool Development Grants program. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced the competition this week, just months after President Obama proposed funding universal access to preschool for all four-year-olds.

The push for preschool comes out of research examining its long-term impacts. A 2013 study researched by early childhood experts from nine institutions and published by the Society for Research in Child Development concluded that children gain emotional and health benefits and accelerated reading and math skills by attending a preschool; on top of that, the researchers stated, investments in preschool programs pay dividends; for every dollar spent, between three and seven dollars are saved in special education services and other public costs down the road.

The new grant program is intended to encourage states to create, develop and expand voluntary, high-quality preschool programs for children from low- and moderate-income families. It will be jointly run by the United States Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

Two kinds of grants will be issued. The 16 states with either small or no state-funded preschool programs will be eligible for development grants, with awards ranging from $5 million to $20 million per year for four years. Those states with more "robust" state-funded preschool programs or that have received Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants, will be eligible for expansion grants. This will range from $10 million to $35 million per year for four years. Applications are due by October 14 and awards will be announced in December 2014.

Applicants will be selected based on demonstrating "ambitious and achievable" plans to implement and sustain high-quality preschool programs that can reach and serve additional eligible children in one or more high-need communities. Up to 35 percent of the development grants can be used for state-level infrastructure and quality improvements; that amount is five percent for the expansion grants.

Other evaluation criteria will look at states' abilities to partner with school districts and other early learning providers, align their preschool programs within a continuum of services that run from birth-through-third-grade and create sustainable programs.

"When we invest in early education, the benefits can last a lifetime," said Burwell in a statement. "Children who attend high-quality early learning and preschool programs are more likely to do well in school and secure good jobs down the road. We all gain when our country has a stronger, more productive workforce, lower crime rates and less need for public assistance. These Preschool Development Grants will help put more children on the path to opportunity."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.