State applies for grant to increase preschool education

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COLUMBIA - The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) announced on Thursday it will be applying for a federal grant that would produce needed funds for pre-kindergarten education.

The U.S. Department of Education Preschool Development Grant would provide the state with up to $17.5 million per year to promote access to full-day kindergarten. The grant would also be used to encourage the expansion of high-quality preschool programs for 4-year-olds from low and middle-income families.

The funds can also be used to improve the teaching skills needed for preschool teachers in order to increase the learning environment in classrooms. The grant is renewable for up to four years, and it will allow Missouri to expand its early childhood education programs.  

"I think the preschool project grant is a really good grant," Carla Tigue, Director of Green Meadows Preschool, said. "It would really help out children in the rural areas, kids that are underprivileged and child care centers that need that extra help and get the necessary tools that they need to educate the children."

But Tigue also believes that the grant will bring some limitations.

"I do feel that the grant really kind of has limits because it doesn't help everybody out. Because if you are in an economically well-developed area you can't really participate because it has some rules about helping out in certain impoverished areas," Tigue said. "But at the end of the day if it can help some child care centers out in those rural areas it's better than not helping out at all."

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said the grant will serve high needs communities in both rural and urban areas.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, Missouri is near the bottom in terms of funding for pre-K programs, ranking 38th out of 41 states with a state preschool program.

"It is clear that investing in early childhood education is imperative for the success of Missouri's children," said Stacey Preis, assistant commissioner in the office of Early and Extended Learning. "We must continue to increase the availability of high-quality preschool in Missouri so children can enter kindergarten ready for school."

States that receive the grant will be announced in December.

[Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the availabilty of grants to both rural and urban.]

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