U.S. Department of Education Announces $3 Million in Pay for Success Grants for Preschool Programs

12/22/2016

The U.S. Department of Education announced today more than $3 million in grant awards to eight government organizations for Preschool Pay for Success feasibility pilots that will support innovative funding strategies to expand preschool and improve educational outcomes for 3- and 4-year-olds. These grants will allow states, school districts and other local government agencies to explore whether Pay for Success is a viable financing mechanism for expanding and improving preschool in their communities in the near term.

“Despite the overwhelming evidence that attending high-quality preschool can help level the playing field for our most vulnerable children, we continue to have a huge unmet need in this country,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “We’re pleased that these grantees will work in their communities to make the case for investing in early education and drive expansion of high-quality preschool.”

Pay for Success is an innovative way of partnering with philanthropic and private sector investors to provide resources for service providers to deliver better outcomes—producing the highest return on taxpayer investments. Through Pay for Success, the government agrees to pay for concrete, measurable outcomes, but taxpayer funds are spent only if those outcomes are achieved.

Twenty-one applications were reviewed.  Among the 8 winners are one state (Minnesota), one charter school, one school district and five local government agencies.

  • Napa Valley Unified School District, CA, $380,944
  • Santa Clara County Office of Education, CA, $392,704
  • Ventura County Office of Education, CA, $397,000
  • Minnesota Department of Education, MN, $397,158
  • Mecklenburg County Government, NC, $335,677
  • Cuyahoga County Office of Early Learning, OH, $374,320
  • Clatsop County, OR, $350,000
  • The Legacy Charter School, SC, $381,815

These feasibility studies will advance the understanding of how Pay for Success can be used to expand and improve the quality of preschool programs for low-income and disadvantaged preschoolers. Each grantee identified potential outcome measures for students that attend preschool, such as improved kindergarten readiness, reading and math growth or achievement, and improved social and emotional skills. Those outcomes will be evaluated over the course of the grant. The grantees will also examine whether children’s social and emotional development is predictive of future school success, cost savings and other societal benefits.

Each Pay for Success project will include an assessment of the design and expansion of an evidence-based preschool program and a cost-benefit analysis showing the return on investment to the community. In the event the Pay for Success model is determined to not be a viable model for funding early childhood learning in a particular community, the grantee’s final report will detail those reasons and offer potential alternatives to Pay for Success that would positively impact early childhood learning.

The grants require safeguards to protect the rights of children with disabilities if the reduction in the need for special education is one of the outcome measures explored in the feasibility studies.  Three of the studies included special education as an outcome measure, and the proposals for all three of these include safeguards and emphasize the importance of engaging special education and disability stakeholders.

The Education Department supports initiatives that are based on evidence, focus on outcomes, and improve education for students at all ages, including early childhood, elementary and secondary education, career and technical education, post-secondary and adult education. Pay for Success is one of several strategies that the Department can use to promote evidence-based policy. In addition to its potential to lead to high-quality Pay for Success projects that provide or expand early education for children, these investments will add knowledge to the field about a wider range of outcome measures that preschool Pay for Success projects should consider and will encourage other entities to set strong guardrails when using special education as an outcome measure.

Today, the Department also released another resource to explore how educators might build on and sustain the positive effects of preschool.  A new case study of five programs examined two types of promising strategies to support children’s learning in early elementary school: (1) aligning instruction from preschool through grade 3, and (2) differentiated instruction.  The five programs included:

  • Boston Public Schools
  • Chicago Child–Parent Centers (Chicago and St. Paul)
  • Early Works (Portland, Oregon)
  • FirstSchool (Martin County, North Carolina)
  • Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) program (Redwood City, California)

Findings indicate that all five aligned instruction across grades by coordinating standards, curricula, instructional practices and professional development. Common elements of these programs included the use of professional learning communities, coaches, parent engagement, and play-based or student-initiated learning. All reported using strategies to accommodate students’ different skill levels, including modifying assignments, adapting learning materials, providing different levels of support, or using small-group instruction.

Source: Office of Early Learning, U.S. Department of Education

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