State prekindergarten programs would expand under an Assembly bill that would allocate $4 million in each of the next two years for the state’s youngest students.
The money would go toward the new Prekindergarten Improvement and Expansion Program under the Department of Education and allow districts to apply for funds to establish new programs.
AB 253 is one of three bills focused on funding prekindergarten in Nevada, where 73.5 percent of children do not have access to formal or licensed child care, according to the Children’s Advocacy Alliance.
The number of prekindergarten seats in Nevada has grown in recent years from multiple funding sources — but that money includes restrictions.
The federal Preschool Development Grant, for example, is reserved for 4-year-olds whose families are at 200 percent of the federal poverty line or below. And prekindergarten programs funded by state Victory and Zoom funds are only used at schools that are either high in poverty or have high numbers of English-language-learner students.
Nevada ranks 38th out of 41 in access to state-funded preschool for 4-year-olds among states that have such programs, and 28th out of 29 in access for 3-year-olds, according to a 2017 National Institute for Early Education Research report.
The bill would require that up to 10 percent of the money be used for training teachers.
Another bill in the Senate would create a state Prekindergarten Account and distribute grants to schools, while a third would provide $12 million each year to the Department of Education to fund the enrollment of 1,500 students.
Gov. Steve Sisolak has proposed funding the continuation of current prekindergarten programs at roughly $22.4 million each year, making up for a loss of expiring federal grants.
AB 253 won support from educators and parents who say they’ve seen a difference between when a child has preschool and does not.
“We’re very privileged to be part of the Preschool Development Grant for the past four years,” said Renee Fairless, principal of the Mater Academy Mountain Vista charter school. “The growth is exponential for what we see with our kindergartners.”
But some voiced concern over a proposed amendment to the bill that would prohibit private schools and child-care facilities from receiving the funding while also questioning the effectiveness of preschool programs.
Janine Hansen of Nevada Families for Freedom cited studies that she said demonstrated that the federal HeadStart preschool program for low-income families does not achieve positive results.
“I think it’s critically important that we not spend tax dollars on programs that, after 45 years, have shown not to work,” she said.