New federal grant brings Missouri early childhood programs total to $44M

(The Center Square) – Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will receive a $4 million federal grant to improve and expand access to early childhood programs.

The grant brings the total amount of federal funds allocated to Missouri for early childhood to $44 million during the last four years. The goal of early childhood programs is for children to be adequately prepared to attend school.

Missouri was one of 10 states to receive a portion of a $250 million competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Applicants were evaluated on plans to improve early childhood systems by building on existing federal, state and local programs.

“This grant is an important opportunity to continue to build the childhood infrastructure that will improve access to, and the quality of, programs and services for families and young children,” Pam Thomas, assistant commissioner for Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) Office of Childhood, said in a statement.

Missouri was one of 23 states receiving an initial Preschool Development Birth Through Age Five Planning Grant. In January 2019, it received a one-year $6.5 million planning grant to coordinate a needs assessment and begin strategic planning activities. In December 2019, Missouri received a three-year $33.5 million grant. It was used to create the Office of Childhood in 2021 to provide oversight and coordination of the state’s early childhood services for families and early learning professionals.

“With these funds we will be able to better support local efforts to coordinate enrollment into childhood programs, enhance the information available to the public through an integrated data system, increase our support for quality programs, and offer retention grants to home visitors, all of which are key strategies in the Office of Childhood’s roadmap for 2026,” Thomas said.

DESE’s 67-page application for the grant highlighted five objectives:

  • communicate innovative family engagement and early childhood workforce best practices at the state and local levels;
  • expand the state’s quality assurance report that will define, measure and support quality improvement;
  • provide recruitment and retention opportunities for early childhood professionals;
  • strengthen Missouri’s state-local partnership model;
  • enhance systems of data collection and reporting.

DESE’s website stated its effort to submit applications for the funding was made possible in part by support from the Missouri Foundation for Health. The nonprofit organization was formed in 2000 when Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri became a for-profit corporation and federal regulations required tax-exempt agencies to fund a charitable entity. Its mission is to “eliminate underlying causes of health inequities, transform systems, and enable individuals and communities to thrive.”

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