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New Preschool Development Grants Emphasize Support of Existing Programs

The federal Preschool Development Grants are back, but they offer substantive differences from the legacy program created during the Obama administration.

The grant application, released Friday, allows states the opportunity to apply for a share of $250 million to bolster their preschool programs. But while the original program set aside some funds for states that were basically starting from scratch, this new program wants to see "collaboration and coordination" among existing programs. 

The legacy Preschool Development Grants were part of a broad economic stimulus program, and a downpayment on a  "preschool for all" program that President Barack Obama announced during a State of the Union address in 2013. The original program awarded money to 18 states in 2015 and 2016. 

Also, the Obama-era Preschool Development Grant program defined the high-quality preschool slots that it wanted to provide. For example, teachers would be required to have a bachelor's degree, class sizes could be no more than 20 students, with one teacher for 10 students, and the preschool slots had to be a full school day, among the requirements.

This new iteration of the grant program—created as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act—backs off on all of those requirements. ESSA specifically states that the federal government cannot require or prescribe for states specific measures or indicators of high quality, the length of a school day or year, or any teacher or staff requirements. 

The Trump administration had proposed getting rid of the program entirely, but Congress funded the program as part of a spending bill passed earlier this year. The program has been a priority of Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee.

The administration expects to make around 40 awards of $500,000 to $15 million. Applications are due by November, and awards are expected to be announced by December. 

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