The news from the U.S. Department of Education last week was already disappointing enough for Missouri advocates for early education funding.
Now details in the critique of the nine bids for federal preschool development grants show that Missouri not only came up short, it came in last.
Missouri was eligible for about $17.5 million a year over four years, which it proposed would be allocated among 28 school sites around the state as an expansion of its Missouri Preschool Project.
But reviewers of Missouri’s application were concerned that the state had secured commitments from only 15 of the 28 sites.
The reviewers also were concerned that Missouri’s application did not, in their view, adequately define expectations that a high-quality program would serve children with disabilities or with language and cultural differences and provide other comprehensive services.
Alabama, Montana, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii won development grants. Puerto Rico, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Missouri were denied.
The report was disappointing, said Stacey Preis, Missouri’s assistant education commissioner for early and extended learning.
“It was a short turnaround time, and we were missing some of the detail,” she said. “We made some assumptions that could have been put into the application.”
It is important to know, Preis said, that the state strongly believes in providing services for all children, with special attention to children with disabilities and other needs to help them blend in with their peers.
“Inclusion is very important to us,” she said. “We could’ve expanded on our intentions” in the application.
And although the state was able to secure the commitments from only 15 of 28 sites, those 15 represented 80 percent of the children who would be served, Preis said.
Some of the strengths noted by the reviewers will continue to be strengths as the state works to improve support for early childhood programming, she said.
Those strengths were the range of partners the state has engaged in support of early childhood, including the work of the legislature, which has begun carving out some early childhood funding in the state’s funding formula for schools.
One past action of the legislature, however, also was a deterrent to the state’s application, Preis said. Missouri by statute does not allow the state to manage a quality rating system of early childhood programs. No other state has such a ban.
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