The release of the President’s fiscal year 2014 budget provides a clearer picture of the quality standards states would have to meet to receive funds under the Obama administration’s “Preschool for All” proposal. The most notable benchmarks are pre-K teachers with bachelor's degrees and salaries for pre-K teachers that are comparable to K-12 teachers’ wages.
The Department of Education would provide funds to help states increase access to high-quality preschool programs for all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. The Congressional Justification documents provide some more detail on what states would have to do to be eligible for this funding, which would be financed through a cigarette tax:
- Bachelor’s degrees for teachers;
- Low staff-to-child ratios and small class sizes;
- Professional development for teachers and staff;
- A full-day program;
- Developmentally appropriate, evidence-based curricula and learning environments that are aligned with state’s early learning standards;
- Salaries that are comparable to those of K-12 teachers;
- Ongoing program evaluation; and
- Onsite comprehensive services for children.
If the funds were available today, not many states would qualify to receive them. Only 29 states require some pre-K teachers to hold bachelor’s degrees. Only about 15 states pay pre-K teachers comparably to K-12 teachers regardless of where they teach; another 15 states pay pre-K teachers similarly, but only if they teach in a public school. And right now, only about 10 states offer a full-day pre-K program statewide. In many states, decisions about the length of the school day and year, as well as about teacher salaries, are made locally.
If states can meet these standards though, the money available could be significant. The president’s budget proposes $1.3 billion for 2014 and anticipates making awards to just 12 to 18 states. Recognizing that many states have a lot of work to do, the administration is also proposing a second, $750 million pre-K grant program called Preschool Development Grants. These would be smaller, competitive grants and would help states build necessary infrastructure, such as workforce and facility development, to support the creation or expansion of pre-K programs.
Workforce development will be one of the biggest challenges for states. Pre-K teachers need to have a deep knowledge of child development and of content in literacy, math and science. They also need to know how to create learning environments that match children’s developmental needs, how to prepare children for success in kindergarten and beyond and how to engage with parents. State policymakers will have to think about how to address the needs of existing pre-K teachers. What incentives can the state provide to help them further their education if they do not already have a bachelor’s degree? At the same time, states should use this opportunity to improve the quality of early childhood teacher preparation programs, to ensure that prospective pre-K teachers are well-trained and prepared to fill new openings.
States may also have to enhance their early childhood professional development offerings. Licensed teachers currently working in an elementary school may consider moving to pre-K, especially where pre-K wages increase. What additional training will these educators need to be able to meet the special needs of young learners?
We are thrilled to see early learning as a priority in President Obama’s budget. But will the administration’s plan become more than simply a proposal? As we mentioned in our post on the budget last week, the president’s budget request is just that: a request. Congress is already moving forward on the FY2014 budget and it is unclear if Preschool for All will make the cut.