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Preschool Development Grants at Center of Advocacy Push

On Oct. 2, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that he will be stepping down. Easily overlooked, in the crush of news about the leadership change, was what Duncan was up to earlier that day: visiting a Title I school in Fairfax County, Va., to announce the second phase of federal Preschool Development Grants and to talk about the administration's efforts around early learning. 

In a call to early-education stakeholders Oct. 6, administration officials kept up the conversation. Of particular concern is the Preschool Development Grant money, which has been zeroed out in the government funding bill under consideration for fiscal 2016, Eighteen states, including Virginia, which Duncan visited, received a total of $250 million in the program's first year to either scale-up or to start prekindergarten programs. Friday, Duncan announced that those 18 states together had received an additional $237 million in preschool development funds.

Eliminating the program with two years left to go would mean about 100,000 children would not be able to not receive pre-K funded through the grant, said Roberto Rodriguez, a key White House education adviser, and Libby Doggett, the deputy assistant education secretary for policy and early learning. Over the past several weeks, pre-K supporters have organized Twitter chats, written letters, and held summits aimed at keeping the grant program and other early-childhood investments alive.

"We should be at a point now where we're doubling down on this investment, not rolling it back," Rodriguez said during the stakeholder call, which was open to the media. 

So, can these grants be saved? Sens. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, and David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana, wrote a bipartisan letter of support for the preschool grant program, which is a good sign.

But Congress only has a few more months to figure this out; another government shutdown is looming in Dec. 11, and lawmakers are caught up in several contentious issues, including federal funding for Planned Parenthood, that could stand in the way of a budget deal. 

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