State Support Grows for Preschool Development Grants Program

Following the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which authorized the new $250 million Preschool Development Grants (PDG) program under Title IX, congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have come forward to support taking proactive steps to implement the program. PDG is the first dedicated funding stream for early learning ever included in the main elementary and secondary education law.

ESSA’s PDG program is intended to improve the existing early childhood landscape in States by addressing duplication and fragmentation among the current initiatives. States can use the ESSA PDG program to implement a strategic plan for high quality early learning; to encourage partnerships with Head Start, states and local agencies; and to maximize parental choice within a mixed delivery system.

Sen. Alexander (R-TN), Rep. Kline (R-MN), Sen. Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Scott (D-VA) have all signed letters to Secretary Burwell of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Secretary King of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) with the intent of emphasizing the intent of the new program as authorized in the bipartisan law. Previously under the funding authority of ED, the new PDGs have now moved under the leadership of HHS, where the vast majority of the early learning and care programs reside. HHS and ED will work jointly and collaboratively to carry out the new program. Improved streamlining of existing programs effectively positions the PDGS to affect greater parent choice so families can select from high-quality early learning opportunities that best suit their needs.

Under the legacy PDGs, 5 states were awarded Development Grants, and 13 states were awarded Expansion Grants. After passing legislation to establish Indiana’s first state-funded Pre-K pilot program in 2014, Gov. Pence (R-IN) wrote to Secretary Burwell of HHS about the importance of building on the opportunity of the PDGs to continue the work states have endeavored to provide high-quality preschool for children from low-income backgrounds. Having served 2,300 low-income children in the five pilot project counties, Indiana’s state Pre-K program, ‘On My Way Pre-K’, is an example state and local innovation meeting the needs of their communities to improve outcomes for children, and the intent of ESSA both aligns with state-led decision-making authority and seeks to bolster it. As the transition from legacy PDGs to ESSA PDGs approaches, funding will be needed to implement the newly authorized program.

On June 24, 2016, ED issued the following notice, Preschool Development Grants – Preschool Pay for Success Feasibility Pilot, which explores the possibility of implementing preschool services through Pay for Success by first determining the candidacy of programs with a feasibility study. To learn more about this financing mechanism in the early learning space, read FFYF’s previous post, Pay for Success Emerges as New Financing Mechanism to Support Continued Early Learning Investment.