Arizona grant Preschoolers|Stock Photo

State education officials have yet to find a way to replace millions of dollars after the federal government chose not to renew one of its grants.

The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) received word last year that its request to renew a federal grant was rejected, leaving the department’s budget $20 million short for preschool funding.

Morgan Dick, the agency’s public information officer, said officials are still trying to find another way to make up the difference.

She said one way the agency is trying to increase funding from the state is by supporting House Bill 2806, which would appropriate millions of dollars from the state’s general fund to replace the lost federal money. 

The legislation would give the agency $7.5 million for early childhood education in fiscal year 2020-21, $15 million the next year, and $22 million the following year. 

For the 2018-2019 school year, the federal government did award Arizona $20 million for the purpose of assessing the needs of the state’s programs for newborns through 5-year-olds. Thus, the ADE applied for a renewal grant, but received notification in December 2019 that it had not been chosen. In total, 20 states were approved to have the grant renewed for the upcoming school year.

“Some of the feedback Arizona received was that it doesn’t have a dedicated source of state funding that can be braided with federal sources to sustain these high-quality programs,” Dick said in an email to The Copper Courier. “Additionally, the federal government highlighted the lack of strong collaboration with other state agencies in regards to early childhood care.” 

The state is also still feeling the effects of a four-year grant for $80 million that ran out in 2018. Dick said this grant, which funds “high-quality preschool program services,” was not eligible for continuation. 

“Without these [Preschool Development Grants], Arizona preschool programs are forced to find funding sources elsewhere, decrease their number of slots, or close down all-together,” Dick said.  “Unfortunately, as of right now, there are no other federal preschool funding sources for our team to plan on applying for.”

That puts pressure on the Legislature to figure out a solution. Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman tweeted her support of HB 2806 over the weekend. 

“Research shows preschool is one of the strongest predictors of kindergarten readiness,” she said. “That’s why I am in full support of [Rep. Lorenzo Sierra’s] bill to restore preK funding for more than 2,000 of Arizona’s youngest learners!”

On Feb. 19, the House Appropriations Committee approved the bill 10-1, and the legislation is now awaiting a vote in the House Rules Committee.