More Than Just Preschool: Grant Opportunity Supports a Continuum of Early Learning and Development

BlogEarly ChildhoodSep 11 2014

Did you know a child’s earliest experiences are predictive of his or her long-term health and educational success? Research has shown that targeted interventions to support at-risk children during the early childhood years can narrow the “school readiness gap” and put children on a path to becoming strong and healthy adults. This is one reason it is critical for states and appropriate stakeholders to effectively use early childhood data. Early childhood data can be used to understand the developmental needs of young children, inform instruction, and identify areas where children and families may need additional supports.

Recently, the US Departments of Education and Health and Human Services announced a competitive application process for Preschool Development and Expansion Grants that can be used to expand access to high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities. But the grant can be used for more than just preschool. Eligible states can also apply to use the funds to enhance their early care and education (ECE) data systems development to support a continuum of learning from birth to third grade. To qualify, states must describe their plans for “the creation of a more seamless progression of supports and interventions,” a process that should entail strong linkages between preschool programs, K–12 education, and data from related sectors such as home visitation and early intervention services.

In 2013, the Early Childhood Data Collaborative (ECDC), conducted a survey of 50 states and the District of Columbia that found most states cannot answer key policy questions about all children served in publicly-funded early care and education programs because ECE data are not linked. This means policymakers don’t have a comprehensive picture of what types of services or supports a child may or may not have received prior to entering school. This information is crucial to answer questions about children’s readiness to start school, the availability of high-quality early learning programs, and the qualifications and training needed to support professionals that work with young children.

ECDC supports state policymakers’ development and use of coordinated state early care and education data systems to improve the quality of ECE programs and the early childhood sector workforce, increase access to high-quality ECE programs, and ultimately improve child outcomes. Since conducting its survey in 2013, ECDC has continued to explore why data linkages can be challenging and is identifying strategies to support the development and use of coordinated state ECE data systems. In this vein, ECDC is excited to share a federal opportunity for states to strengthen their early childhood data linkages.

How Preschool Development and Expansive Grants Support the States’ Use of Early Childhood Data

Preschool Development and Expansion grants, which will be administered jointly by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, will total $250 million. The goal of the grants is twofold:

  1. Help states develop or enhance their capacity to offer preschool services high in quality.
  2. Target services to serve children living in high-need communities.

Applicants for both development and expansion grants are given credit for working to support their statewide longitudinal data system and for connecting data across sectors, particularly bridging pre-K and elementary education. These priorities acknowledge both the importance of increasing access to high-quality preschool programs and to the need to have a coordinated early care and education system that links to health, social services, and education programs.

States are eligible to apply for a grant based on two factors:

  1. The percentage of children served in state-funded preschool.
  2. Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge status.

Based on their previous work, states are eligible to apply for either a preschool development or preschool expansion grant.

Development ($20–80 million/4 years) grants are available for the following 16 states: AL, AK, HI, ID, IN, MS, MO, MT, NV, NH, ND, PR, SD, UT, and WY.

Expansion ($40–140 million/4 years) grants are available for the following 36 states: AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, IL, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, NE, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VT, VA, WA, WV, and WI.

As states move toward developing more coordinated early care and education systems inclusive of an array of publicly-funded services, grants that acknowledge the need for expanded access, improved quality, and stronger data infrastructures are a key strategy to help states build on existing investments.