State Education Board Takes Action to Expand Pre-K Access

Jefferson City, MO – On Tuesday, the State Board of Education approved an emergency rule and proposed rulemaking to allow more education pathways for lead teachers in pre-kindergarten programs receiving state grant funds.

Last year, the legislature approved $26 million in new funding for grants to childcare programs to provide pre-K to 4-year-olds, prioritizing funding for children who qualify for free-or-reduced price lunch. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) reported that 19% of the $26 million in pre-kindergarten grant funds were awarded to the first round of applicants in October.

Expanding access to high quality pre-K education has been a top priority for Governor Parson and his administration. DESE’s actions on Tuesday support the priority. “For our state to be successful, our students must be successful, and we know the education of Missouri’s kids must start early,” Governor Mike Parson said. “That’s why we’ve made historic investments to ensure families have access to quality early learning programs for their children. We applaud the State Board of Education for taking additional measures to mitigate teacher workforce barriers and help maximize early childhood education opportunities for Missouri families.”

“In engaging with childcare providers throughout the state, the existing teacher qualification requirements remained the greatest barrier to accessing or even applying for the funds,” said Casey Hanson, deputy director for Kids Win Missouri, a statewide advocacy coalition focused on advancing policies that improve child well-being. “We commend the State Board of Education and the Office of Childhood for moving swiftly to address some of the implementation challenges around the Missouri Quality Pre-K grants for child care programs, so that more programs children and families can access high-quality pre-K.”

Previously, the program required teachers to have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or early childhood special education and hold a teacher’s certificate. The rule approved Tuesday will still include a bachelor’s degree with specialization in early childhood education as a top standard, but will also allow lead teachers to have an associate’s degree while they work to earn their bachelor’s degree. The new qualifications align with standards approved by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

“Aligned applauds DESE’s proactive efforts to address barriers hindering childcare providers from accessing grant funding for early childhood programs. The Department collaborated with advocates to devise a solution that upholds high-quality standards for pre-K educators while offering flexible options to expand the childcare supply,” said Linda Rallo, Vice President for Aligned, an organization of business leaders focused on workforce issues.

The emergency rule will go into effect in January 2024 and the proposed rulemaking for a permanent version of the rule will run concurrently, but will require public input and comment before being finalized.

October 2023 polling showed that 86% of voters believe early childhood education helps kids succeed in school. On December 1, the first day of bill filing for the 2024 legislative session, Sen. Lauren Arthur (D-Kansas City) filed SB 743 and Rep. Brenda Shields (R-St. Joseph) filed HB 1486, both of which would provide funding for school districts to support pre-K education for kids. DESE included funding for the Missouri Quality Pre-Kindergarten grants for childcare programs in its FY25 budget request.