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Education

Early Education Panel Submits Application for Federal Grant, Looks at the Long-Term

A group working to expand access to early childhood learning programs in Pittsburgh has released its recommendations to state officials – as Pennsylvania gears up to apply for a piece of a nationwide $250 million preschool development grant. In Pittsburgh, the share would be used to expand access for lower-income children first.

“This grant would provide more access for 378 more children who are currently on a waiting list to be served in a high-quality program,” said Cosette Grant-Overton, manager of educational development in the mayor’s office.

In August, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited a pre-k program in the Hill District to announce the grant. There is no guarantee the state, or Pittsburgh, will get the funds, though when it was announced Mayor Bill Peduto said chances are good.

There are approximately 5,698 three and four year olds in Pittsburgh, about 45 percent of them are in a federal, state or school-based pre-k program, and 378 are on waiting lists.

“There are additional children, 3,132 children who are not being served,” said Grant-Overton, “so we’re looking longer-term, post this grant to provide and look into ways and resources to look for additional support.”

The Mayor’s panel recommends a four-year timeline to expand access to high-quality pre-K for every three and four year olds by following one, or a combination, of three paths. Those include Targeted Access, including efforts to reach all children under 300 percent of the federal poverty line; Income-Based Family Cost Share, which allows expansion to all children, with families paying a portion of the cost on a sliding scale based on family income; and Fully Subsidized Education, with expansion available to all families and fully subsidized. Expanding access to pre-k education has positive long-term impacts for students and the community, including ensuring students aren’t starting kindergarten already behind their peers.

“They are less inclined to be in trouble, so less incarceration rates, less crime, higher percentage of those that are prepared to go on to post-secondary education, higher graduation rates, less teen pregnancies,” said Grant-Overton.

The panel is divided into sub-groups, and all will continue to work on the issue of access to early learning programs. As for the grant, the state is set to submit its full grant application to the U.S. Department of Education before the mid-October deadline.