Early education programs across Massachusetts have used federal Preschool Expansion Grants (PEG) to add more seats and serve more than 800 additional children annually. But now these programs – located in Boston, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, and Springfield — face a tough question: What happens next year after their PEG grants run out?
Boston is taking proactive steps. Mayor Marty Walsh has announced a plan to invest $15 million over five years to ensure high-quality pre-K for all 4-year-olds in the city.
In other communities, PEG grants have had a great deal of local success. The grants have supported some of the highest quality preschool classrooms in the state.
These benefits were highlighted yesterday, at a meeting of the Board of the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) where researchers from Abt Associates summarized the most recent PEG program evaluations. A video of the Board meeting is posted here. It starts at 34:32.
Among the PEG evaluation’s many findings:
• programs had a sizeable impact on children’s early literacy and early math skills
• researchers used CLASS scores to identify high-quality classrooms and found that PEG classrooms scored higher than non-PEG classrooms
• parents of children in PEG classrooms made economic gains during the preschool year, presumably because they were able to work while their children were in safe, full-day, full-year programs
Fortunately, even though PEG funding is running out, Massachusetts can continue to expand pre-K programs by building on the foundation of its Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative (CPPI). This state-funded program awarded preschool expansion funding to six communities: New Bedford, Somerville, North Adams, Springfield, Lowell, and Boston. Twelve communities had applied for the grants, which shows that there is high demand for these funds.
Communities that were award the state state grants are using them to meet specific needs. In Springfield for example, the nonprofit organizations Square One, New Beginnings, and the YMCA are working with Springfield Public Schools “to better serve children with special needs,” Square One says on its website.
On the legislative front, Governor Baker’s FY20 budget proposal calls for sustaining CPPI at, essentially, current funding levels of $2.5 million. EEC expects to carry over unspent funds from FY19, when $5 million was allocated for this new grant program, into FY20.
But as Amy O’Leary said in her testimony at the EEC Board meeting, “That amount will sustain current CPPI grantees, but not allow for much, if any, expansion. And it does nothing to fund the $15 million in federal PEG dollars that end in August.”
There’s room to grow. The House and Senate have an opportunity to go beyond the governor’s recommendation. Strategies for Children estimates that $25 million for CPPI would be enough to backfill federal PEG funds ($15 million), sustain current CPPI grantees ($5 million) and expand with grants to new communities ($5 million).
This funding would be targeted. State budget language requires that in awarding grants, preference be given to “districts serving high percentages of high-needs students” and to “districts that have completed strategic planning efforts that support expanding access to high-quality preschool.”
The next step?
It’s budget season. So please reach out to your state senators and representatives – especially if you live or work in a PEG/CPPI community. Remind legislators that PEG grants are expiring. Explain how much good PEG funding has done. And ask them to support more funding for CPPI. For help with messaging or advocacy letter templates, contact Titus DosRemedios, Strategies’ director of research and policy, at email@example.com.
The research on pre-K expansion is clear: Enrolling more Massachusetts children in high-quality early education programs helps level the playing field and can put these children on a path that leads to long-term success.