U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education

Last week, federal officials announced that applications are available for a new $250 million Preschool Development Grants competition, funding that will help states start new high-quality preschool programs or expand existing ones.

Jointly administered by the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, the program is meant to help close the opportunity gap for the nation’s youngest children.

“Preschool Development Grants are not intended to simply add more seats to just any existing state-level program; there is a strong focus on program quality,” Ed Central, a New America Foundation blog, explains.

And as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a Department of Education press release, “This new grant competition will prepare states to participate in President Obama’s proposed Preschool for All program — a federal-state partnership that would promote access to full-day kindergarten and encourage the expansion of high-quality preschool programs for 4-year-olds from low- and middle-income families.”

This investment is a vital necessity. “Across the country, there is tremendous unmet need for high-quality early learning programs,” the education department notes. “Only 40 percent of eligible children have access to Head Start and less than one-third of all 4-year olds in the U.S. are enrolled in state preschool programs.”

Grant Program Details

All states as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia are eligible for the program, which offers two types of funding: $80 million in development grants and $170 million in expansion grants.

“Under the Preschool Development Grant program, states with either small or no state-funded preschool programs will be eligible for Development Grants,” according to the Department of Education. The eligible applicants are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

States that have “more robust state-funded preschool programs, or that have received Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants, will be eligible for Expansion Grants.”

The application deadline is Tuesday, October 14, 2014; and awards will be made in December, 2014. Applications will be judged on the quality of their plans to:

 • build high-quality programs

 • create state-level infrastructure and quality improvements

 • work with sub-grantees and build strong partnerships between school districts and other early learning providers

 • align preschool programs within a birth-through-third-grade continuum of services, and

• build program sustainability

 “States early in their development of preschool programs can receive $5 million to $20 million annually for four years, while those with more substantial efforts already in place can receive $10 million to $35 million in the same time frame,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

An executive summary offers more details on the program’s rules, eligibility, and funding.

“When we invest in early education, the benefits can last a lifetime,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia M. Burwell said in the education department press release, adding, “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.”