Washington’s bid for a federal Preschool Development Grant is shaping up to be more than a request for funding. It will be a bid to transform public preschool across the state.
In its application, Washington will lay out its vision of a coordinated and voluntary preschool system that encompasses a wide range of providers, including Head Start, the state’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), home-based care, and school districts.
To realize this vision, the application will propose ambitious changes that emphasize quality, established curricula and dosage, or ensuring students spend five to six hours a week in preschool during a school year. The idea of dosage is central to Washington’s plan, and if the state wins a grant it plans to increase the number of statewide full-day preschool slots from 1,926 to 20,926.
The grant would actually be a $70 million boost over the next four years to Washington’s ongoing preschool initiative. In 2011, the state Legislature and then-Gov. Christine Gregoire called for a comprehensive plan for voluntary preschool around the state. Washington already plans to expand ECEAP to all eligible families by 2018-19.
“The federal grant offers Washington a transformational opportunity to expand high-quality preschool in our state,” Juliet Morrison, assistant director for quality practice and professional growth at Washington’s Department of Early Learning, said in a statement. “This funding, in combination with the strong support of our state legislature, will allow us to build on the successes of our ECEAP program and provide deeper and richer programs to more children, providing the educational foundation that all children need for lifelong success.”
With a new federal grant, the idea would be to braid new and old federal and state preschool funding to create a single high-quality program based on systems and strategies that have been proven by decades of research.
What would this new preschool system look like? Teachers would receive higher levels of training that would include help with tuition for a bachelor’s degree. Programs would be supported by the state’s quality ratings and improvement system, Early Achievers, and connected to kindergarten through the school readiness program WaKIDS.
And it would serve a lot more kids. Currently, there are 10,091 ECEAP slots. Under the state plan, this number would reach 25,091 by 2018-19, and 20,926 would be full-day. Free preschool would also reach more working poor families by covering those making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line. (Today, families need to earn 110 percent of the poverty line to qualify for ECEAP.) There is a lot more to this plan. Check out details in the Department of Early Learning’s federal preschool grant program resource.
While Washington can make a compelling case for a Preschool Development Grant, competition will be intense. Nearly two-thirds of states plan to apply, including states with nationally recognized preschool systems, such as New Jersey, Massachusetts and North Carolina.
The competition is split into two categories. Washington and other states with established preschool programs or Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge grants will compete for expansion grants. States with no or limited preschool programs will compete for developmental grants.
Once again, the Obama administration will move quickly on these applications, which are due Oct. 14. The Department of Education will announce the winners in December.
Stay tuned for developments.