Sara Mead, in her blog at Education Week, has some additional useful comments on the $500 million early learning competitive grant program announced by the federal government yesterday.
To elaborate on my comments yesterday, $500 million is a great deal of money in some respects. On the other hand, it only offers limited funding for directly increasing access to high-quality preschool or child care.
For example, if all of the $500 million were used to expand high-quality preschool slots, and such slots cost $5,000 each, then the number of additional slots to be funded would be 100,000. The U.S. has about 4.3 million 4 year olds. So even if all these funds were devoted to preschool for four-year olds, the slots funded would be about 2% of the four-year-old population. Of course, as these funds are intended to enhance a wide variety of child care and preschool services from birth to age 5, the number of additional slots that could be offered via this funding would be an even smaller percentage of each age’s population.
These funds would have a bigger percentage impact in the few states that are funded. But the goal presumably is to have national impact by these few states leading the way. If all these few states do is use funds to expand slots, all that this demonstrates is that more funding allows for more slots. We already know this to be true.
Therefore, to have a large national impact, these funds will largely have to be used to demonstrate how to improve the quality of services offered by existing funding streams for child care and preschool. The question is, what types of activities would have the most “leverage” in doing so, that is would increase quality the most per dollar spent? How can evaluation of child care and preschool quality best be improved so that we know which programs are working and which programs are not working? How can we set up systems to respond to these evaluations of quality, and intervene to improve quality? What training/professional development activities would truly improve quality? These are some of the questions that need to be explored.