Preschool Development Grants Birth-Five: What’s in a Name?

Juliet in Sheakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet argues that names don’t matter (“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”). Nevertheless, it is confusing that the recent federal grant awards to 46 states and territories are called Preschool Development Grants Birth to Five (PDG B-5).

Like its predecessor, the new Preschool Development Grants seek to support early childhood education, but the similarities don’t extend much beyond this general commonality. The first Preschool Development Grants were issued by the U.S. Department of Education in 2015 and 2016 to help states expand high-quality pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds from low-income famliies.

The current PDG B-5 grants, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, allow states to think critically about their current early childhood systems and how they can increase equitable access to high-quality programs for all children and families. This includes assessing system needs, developing a collaborative plan of action and beginning the work, and rallying stakeholders around a common vision and goals for young children. I say “collaborative” because the program encourages coordination at the state level among all state departments involved in providing supportive early childhood services to children birth through age 5 and their families. It emphasizes coordination, partnerships, addressing fragmentation, and broadening meaningful involvement and decisionmaking

PDG B-5 focuses on three major areas to:

  1. Maximize parental choice.
  2. Share best practices.
  3. Improve overall quality of early care and education programs.

With a combined total of $247 million in funding, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 44 states (almost a 50-state approach-!) will be engaged in this work. The grants also provide funding to implement key improvement initiatives and activities to meet state needs once a strategic plan is in place. They ranged from $538,000 to $10.6 million with Alabama, California, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania receiving over $10 million each. These are one-year planning grants (that allow a little action); states are racing to conduct needs assesssments and develop or revise strategic plans.

The excitement of an-almost-50-state strategy energized states and incented significant collaboration even before the states were awarded. In October, BUILD, NIEER, the Alliance for Early Success, the Ounce, EdCounsel, the Policy Equity Group and many others partnered during the application phase to bring together more than 175 leaders from 39 states and the District of Columbia to an in-person technical assistance meeting and disseminated new tailored tools and previously created relevant resources—over 150 of them—with support for their use. Resources generated to facilitate the work included a fillable form that leaders could use to help them think through the needs assessment, and a needs assessment chart that lists all the federally required needs assessments that already exist in states. Now, many technical assistance providers are supporting states as they focus on needs assessments and strategic plans for the PDG B-5 grants that end Dec. 30, 2019; this state planning work sets the states up to apply for renewal grants later in 2019.

On March 7, it was very exciting to hear Representatives Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and John Katko (R-NY) discuss the benefits of the program and call for a $150 million increase in future funding for the PDG B-5 program to $400 million at an FFYF hosted bipartisan briefing.

The representatives announced a “Dear Colleague” letter and encouraged Members of Congress to co-sign the letter to the Appropriations Committee. Focusing on this future funding is critical to help states continue to develop the cross-agency connections and infrastructure necessary for families with young children to be able to access quality, especially those furthest from opportunity.

A grants program—by any name--that helps states advance toward equitable outcomes for young children is much needed and an important investment in our country’s future.

Susan Hibbard, the BUILD Initiative

(March 19, 2019)