District of Columbia Awarded Federal Preschool Development Grant to Boost Child Outcomes

In late 2018, the District of Columbia received exciting news that will bolster its efforts to improve outcomes for young children and their families, particularly those in most need. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families announced that 45 states and territories will receive the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B–5) award. And the District of Columbia is one of them.

This $10.6 million grant is designed to improve the quality of early learning programs and services and build more coordinated early childhood systems — better educating D.C. families about their options and equipping them to make the best choices for their children. The grant will run from December 31, 2018, through December 30, 2019, at which time this opportunity will be up for renewal. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) Division of Early Learning will lead the execution of this grant with the support of Mayor Bowser’s Administration and in partnership with the State Early Childhood Development Coordinating Committee (SECDCC), parents, families, educators and other early learning, nutrition and health advocates across the city — including members of the Birth-to-Three Policy Alliance.

As one of OSSE’s key partners, the Bainum Family Foundation supports this work through our $3.4 million in funding toward the required 30% matching dollars for this grant. Our commitment will primarily support the city’s needs assessment and strategic plan along with several other pieces of the grant, including maximizing parent choice in a mixed-delivery system, sharing best practices and improving quality. Additionally, two Foundation staff members — myself and my colleague Marcus Gray, Senior Manager of Partner and Community Engagement — will serve with other community stakeholders on the PDG B-5 Core Team.

“We are pleased to partner with OSSE on many efforts to improve systems and resources for young children and their families, and the Preschool Development Grant B–5 will help continue the momentum in the District,” says Barbara Bainum, Chair of the Board, CEO and President of the Bainum Family Foundation. “We want all children in the District to thrive. If we give children what they need from the very beginning of their lives, they will have a better chance of success in school and in life.”

Through this grant, D.C. will continue to align resources to enhance coordination and foster partnerships among Early Head Start, Head Start, early learning and pre-K providers in community-based programs, homes, centers and school settings. In a city where choice is valued, the District also will work to strengthen the transitions between programs serving infants and toddlers and local education agencies offering pre-K and kindergarten to better support children as they progress through the early years and grades.

How the Grant Will Be Used

The first activity to be conducted under this grant will be a Districtwide needs assessment to identify opportunities or challenges that support or hinder families from being able to navigate systems and access high-quality programs and services across the birth-through-age-5 continuum. After analyzing existing needs assessments, surveying families and program providers, conducting focus groups, interviewing agency leaders and taking inventory of pilots and demonstration projects, findings from the PDG B–5 needs assessment will be released. These findings will contribute to the development of the city’s strategic plan (the District’s second activity), aimed at improving outcomes for the most vulnerable young children and their families.

A variety of stakeholders will need to play an active role in both the needs assessment and strategic plan, as these first two activities will inform the next three — maximizing parental choice and knowledge, sharing best practices and improving quality. Beyond the immediate deliverables for this federal grant, the creation of a clear and actionable strategic plan will further develop the District’s vision for high-quality early learning and address how best to coordinate and sustain funding, programs and services to meet the needs of our youngest learners — enabling them to thrive academically, socially and emotionally in the early grades.

Members of the community can participate in the SECDCC meetings, which are open to the public and are being used, in part, as forums to contribute to the development of the needs assessment and strategic plan. Along with my colleagues at the Foundation, I look forward to supporting the needs assessment and the development of an equity-focused strategic plan that builds on prior thinking, proves to be sustainable and meets the needs of our community — propelling all our children, from birth towards a future rich with opportunity.