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Mass. receives $15m US grant to increase access to preschool

A teacher-in-training and a child played with shape blocks during a Pre-Kindergarten class in Seattle. /Ted S. Warren/Associated Press/file

Massachusetts will receive $15 million from the US Department of Education to expand access to preschool to about 750 4-year-olds in five communities across the state, officials announced Wednesday.

The funding comes from the federal Preschool Development Grant program, which will use $250 million to enroll 33,000 children in preschool programs in high-need communities nationwide.

In Massachusetts, the grant will be devoted to expanding programs in Boston, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, and Springfield, according to a statement from Governor Deval Patrick.

The grant program is one of the federal early-education initiatives announced Wednesday during the White House Summit on Early Childhood Education.


The US Department of Health and Human Services will dedicate $500 million to Early Head Start child-care programs nationwide. Massachusetts programs in Haverhill, Lawrence, and Taunton will receive a combined $3.7 million for Head Start.

“Early education is one of the best investments we can make not just in a child’s future, but in our country’s,” President Obama said at the summit, according to remarks provided by the White House.

Fewer than 3 in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in high-quality preschool, Obama said.

Massachusetts was one of 18 states to receive the Preschool Development Grant and one of 13 winners of its Expansion Grant competition, which uses targeted communities as models for enrolling every 4-year-old in the state in preschool.

The grant allows the state to provide full-day, all-year free preschool to participating families, said Tom Weber, commissioner of the state Department of Early Education and Care. Typically, public schools offer half-day preschool and only during the academic year.

With the grant, the state will introduce a collaborative preschool model that combines its public and private educational services. Private licensed child care providers in the five targeted communities will deliver the preschool services, working with the public school district to develop curricula and mentor educators.


“[This program] leverages the strengths of both systems and gives families a wonderful choice,” Weber said.

The program also opens up free preschool services to children in the five communities who would not normally qualify due to their parents’ work status, officials said.

“The public schools can’t do it alone,” said Christopher Martes, head of the Boston education advocacy group Strategies for Children.

Massachusetts was eligible for the Expansion Grant because it was a recipient of Race to the Top — Early Learning Challenge grant of $50 million in 2011.

The state applied for $60 million over four years and was awarded its full request for the first year of the grant. If the grant is renewed each of the four years, the state will be able to send 3,000 children to preschool, said Weber.

Catherine Cloutier can be reached at