Preschool Development Grants: More than Meets the Eye

Policy is catching up with knowledge. For researchers and scientists, the idea that birth through age eight represents a critical developmental period for children is not new. Their work studying the developing brain and how children learn has been published in numerous scientific journals. What is new is a growing understanding that policies that invest in birth to eight strategies are the most effective and cost-efficient means to improve long-term outcomes for children and communities.

Why are we starting an article about the Preschool Development Grants talking about birth to eight? Because we think it’s worth noting that applicants for these grants will have to address alignment within a birth through third grade continuum. And of the three optional priorities that applicants may choose to include, one is supporting a continuum of early learning and development through an “ambitious and achievable plan from birth through third grade.”

In other words, preschool is a strategy with proven results, and it is part of a larger scope of policies and programs that recognizes education as a cumulative process that begins at birth.

Now on to the grants . . .
The Preschool Development Grants will be jointly administered by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. They have posted the initial criteria online and are accepting public comment through Friday, May 16 at 5 PM (EDT).

This article highlights some of the key criteria. The information provided here represents the initial thinking of the Departments and is NOT final.

Is there more than one type of grant available?
Yes. There are two categories of grants.

  1. Development Grants  are for states with small or no state-funded preschool programs.
  2. Expansion Grants are for states that serve 10% or more of eligible children in a state funded-preschool program or have been awarded a Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.

North Carolina is eligible for an Expansion Grant. Although much of the information is the same, this article addresses only the Expansion Grants. In addition to North Carolina, the following states are eligible: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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What is the goal of the Expansion Grants?
All applicants must demonstrate how they will increase access to high quality preschool programs in high need communities.

In addition, applicants earn additional points in three optional categories:

  • Matching funds: Can be state, local and/or philanthropic funds and includes state funding appropriates beginning if fiscal year 2014.
  • Supporting a birth through third grade continuum.
  • Addressing children in Promise Zones: Does not apply to North Carolina.

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How is high quality defined?
Programs mist be evidence-based and include at a minimum:

  • High staff qualifications, including a teacher with a bachelor degree in early childhood education or a bachelor degree in any field with a State-approved alternate pathway;
  • High-quality professional development for all staff;
  • A staff-child ratio of no more than 1:10;
  • A class size of no more than 20;
  • A full-day program;
  • Full inclusion of children with disabilities
  • Developmentally appropriate, evidence-based curricula and learning environments that are aligned with the State Early Learning and Development standards, for at least the year prior to kindergarten entry;
  • Individualized accommodations and supports so that all children can access and participate fully in learning activities
  • Instructional staff salaries comparable to kindergarten through grade twelve teaching staff;
  • Program evaluation to ensure continuous improvement;
  • Onsite or accessible comprehensive services for children; and
  • Evidence-based health and safety standards.

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How is high need community defined?
A geographically defined area with a high level of need or distress as determined by the State.

How much money is available for Expansion Grants?
The amount individual states can receive ranges from $10 million to $35 million per year. If awarded a grant, the maximum budget available to North Carolina is $20 million per year.

Grant amounts are based on a state’s population of four-year-olds living in families at 200 percent or below of the Federal Poverty Level.

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How long is the grant period?
Up to four years. Funding will be provided annually and is subject to continued appropriation by Congress.

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Who applies?
The Governor applies and designates a lead agency.

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What is the timeline?
There will only be about two months from the time the application is posted until the time proposals are due.

  • Invitation for Application in Federal Register: Early Summer
  • Submit Intent to Apply: Late Summer
  • Applications Deadline: Early Fall
  • Peer Review: Fall
  • Awards Announced: Late Fall

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North Carolina, a Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant recipient, is well positioned for the grants. NC PreK is one of only five states that meet all 10 of NIEER’s quality benchmarks (see article below); the state has a well-established Quality Rating Improvement System; and it has a robust existing infrastructure with Smart Start and the Office of Early Learning.