Though California has been at odds with the federal government on many fronts, the state is getting a boost from the Trump administration to lay the groundwork for expanding preschool and child care programs.

California was one of 45 states to receive a Preschool Development Birth through Five Grant this year for improving access to child care and early learning for infants and children. California received $10.6 million.

The grant will not create any new child care slots, but will help in planning efforts to expand child care and early learning services. Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed a major expansion of the system of early education for children 0-5 years old, including providing state-subsidized preschool to all low-income 4-year-olds and expanding a program that sends nurses and social workers to infants’ homes to help new parents.

Sarah Neville-Morgan, director of the California Department of Education’s Early Learning and Care Division, said the grant will help California in its efforts to improve access to quality early childhood education for all children.

“In order to really address the achievement gap and prevent that,” she said, “we need to do better with children zero through five.”

The Preschool Development Birth through Five Grant program was authorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal education law passed in 2015 as a successor to the No Child Left Behind Act. The Trump administration proposed eliminating the grant program, but it was eventually funded by Congress.

It differs from a previous Preschool Development Grant program launched by President Barack Obama to expand and improve preschool quality. The previous program provided funds for more preschool slots for 3- and 4-year-olds and required states receiving funding to meet certain standards, such as small class sizes of no more than 20 children, with one teacher for every 10 students. The new program does not provide new slots for children, but focuses more on helping states assess needs and improve collaboration between all existing programs that provide child care and services for children up to 5 years old, including care provided by family members, child care in a provider’s home and center-based care.

The grant requires California to identify where there are shortages in child care and services for young children and create a statewide strategic plan to address those needs. Neville-Morgan said the current strategic plan for early learning is not detailed enough and the federally funded assessment will give the state a deeper understanding of needs at a local level so it can target support.

“The State Advisory Council has been asking for a couple of years to update the strategic plan,” she said. “This not only drives us in that direction and holds us accountable for it, but also gives us additional resources to make it happen.”

Neville-Morgan said it is key to bring all the agencies working on expanding and improving child care and preschool together and a team from the Department of Education has already begun meeting every two weeks with staff from the governor’s office, the governor-appointed State Advisory Council on Early Learning and Care and First 5 California, a state commission focused on improving the lives of children in their first five years of life.

Some advocates said the assessment will be crucial for the success of initiatives such as Newsom’s proposal to expand preschool to all low-income 4-year-olds over three years and exploring how to eventually offer preschool to all 4-year-olds, regardless of income.

“To actually be able to spend some time and resources in creating a deeper-level plan, particularly at this moment in time, could really help move beyond a report that gets put on the shelf to recommendations that actually help drive policy,” said Kate Miller, senior associate of early childhood policy for Children Now, a nonprofit organization that advocates for children in California.

The grant will also help fund California’s efforts to build an online “parent portal” where parents can learn about all of their options for child care and preschool in one place and to build an online learning platform for child care providers and teachers where they can learn about best practices for teaching preschool-age children, caring for infants and toddlers or serving children who have experienced trauma.

One of the requirements of the federal grant is that states work to improve the quality of early learning. California already has a Quality Counts California initiative that rates the quality of participating child care and preschool programs and helps providers improve. The state will use the federal grant funds to improve early learning through the Tribal Child Care Association of California, an association of providers who care for children from Native American communities throughout the state.

Story originally published by EdSource.

Zaidee Stavely