Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Tuesday the first round of new Preschool Education Expansion Aid (PEEA), totaling $20.6 million for 31 eligible districts. The funds will expand preschool education programs for more than 2,000 three- and four-year-old children across the state.  The announcement was made in a visit to the Carteret school district.

The fiscal year 2019 budget included $50 million for PEEA and an additional $33 million in Preschool Education Aid. This is the largest increase in pre-K funding in over a decade, according to the governor’s office.

The distribution of preschool expansion aid will be divided into two rounds, with the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) expected to award the second round of PEEA in early October.

“By investing in early childhood education, we are making a long-term investment in the next generation,” said Governor Murphy. “Every child deserves the opportunity to have access to quality pre-K programs and this funding will provide our children with the tools and support they need to reach their greatest potential.”

New Jersey School Boards Association Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod echoed that sentiment. “The research is clear that effective pre-K programs have a dramatic impact upon young learners,” said Feinsod. “Getting children off to a good start in school is absolutely essential for their success. NJSBA applauds this commitment to the education of the state’s youngest students.”

PEEA funding is distributed based on the numbers of low-income students in the district. This funding will support existing preschool programs to provide high-quality programming by extending the hours, decreasing class size, and adding additional children. The districts will improve seats for 1,218 preschool children and will open new seats for 882 new preschool children.

For the first round of PEEA, NJDOE targeted districts that have previously received partial state aid and could implement expansion plans by October 2018.

The second round of funding will target districts where more than 20 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Districts must also have not  previously received any state preschool aid. NJDOE received 31 applications from 117 eligible school districts and is currently reviewing those applications. The total request for round two funding is more than $26.7 million. This level of funding would allow up to 239 half-day children and 2,000 full-day children to be served for the first time with state preschool aid.