Many states are looking to create efficient and effective preK systems to help children from all backgrounds develop the skills necessary to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. Find out how Nevada’s state educational agency (SEA) tapped its regional comprehensive center to build capacity to achieve these ends, align previously disconnected systems, and consider numerous practical needs on the ground.

Nevada significantly expands family access to quality preK. In 2021, representatives of the Nevada Department of Education (NDE) stood before the state legislature presenting data and evidence regarding the stabilized preK seat cost in Nevada to make the case for a major preK funding increase. The analysis upon which the testimony was based was created by the Region 15 Comprehensive Center (R15CC).

“The literature review and landscape analysis completed is an invaluable resource,” noted Patti Oya, Director, Office of Early Learning and Development at NDE. “Because of this document, along with the support of the Comp Center team, we were able to show justification for our recommendation of a stabilized pre-K seat cost.”

In addition, Oya reported, “[R15CC] technical assistance was exactly what we needed to move forward. With the Comprehensive Center’s assistance, we ended up with a very clear, targeted message that we were able to distribute to advocacy groups, community stakeholders, and Pre-K grantees. …  As a result of these efforts, our advocacy partners organized a Pre-K Call to Action live event on Facebook, tweets were sent, letters of support were included as exhibits for the fiscal subcommittee budget hearing, and local media articles were posted online.”

The result was that preK funding that was cut during a 2020 special session was restored, and the state approved a stabilized seat cost of $8,410. This fully funded seat cost is a departure from previous practice, which left school districts and other organizations cobbling together money from other sources, such as Title I or Head Start program funding. The funding allocation of $19.8 million allows for 2,349 fully funded preK seats in Nevada.

Faced next with the need to dramatically increase the number of preK seats, NDE reached out to R15CC to conduct a cost and equity study to accurately ascertain the gap between expected levels of funds the new preK per pupil formula would generate and the amount sites needed to create extra seats.

“In the process we were able to elevate the need for rural sites to have equitable budgets. Our team did this by providing data points about the additional cost incurred by rural sites, like additional transportation cost due to fewer transportation options and living further away from Pre-K sites in comparison to their metropolitan peers,” added Mel Wylen, Program Associate II with R15CC.

With new seats on the horizon, the state set out to calibrate the expanded preK offerings with realities faced by early learning practitioners on the ground, such as the regional differences in salaries and the impact of enrollment on child–teacher ratios. To gather feedback on preliminary recommendations of the cost and equity analysis, R15CC engaged Nevada’s Early Childhood Advisory Council (ECAC), a diverse group of early learning practitioners and educators, in two focus groups. The ECAC feedback was invaluable to the development of the report’s final recommendations.

As progress occurs, new challenges rise.

Today, approximately 23,000 youngsters in Nevada are eligible to enter kindergarten. To prepare, the state recently released a request for proposals (RFP) seeking vendors qualified to provide Nevada Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA) services.

“The state needs a suitable and accurate kindergarten entry assessment that will provide useful data to inform instruction, interventions, and customization, as well as align with state policy and standards,” explained Bryan Hemberg, associate director of R15CC, and lead of the NDE support team.

Last year, R15CC collaborated with NDE officials to produce guidance that would enable NDE to develop a call for KEA proposals that reflected best practices nationally and Nevada’s specific needs. The team integrated cutting-edge research, case studies from other states, and real-world needs and concerns reported by interest holders across the state. The resulting brief identified characteristics of a high-quality KEA, varying uses of KEAs, and other insights from different states. It also provided recommendations for Nevada’s KEA and described ways in which the KEA could be utilized from the classroom level to the state level.

Overall, reports Wylen, “[State leaders] have been very intentional about being equitable and making sure that all students are at the forefront before they start making decisions and policy changes.”

Next steps: This spring, with R15CC’s support, the state will evaluate Nevada KEA service proposals and plan to have a valid assessment in place for the start of the 2024/25 school year.

Top tip for SEAs: R15CC suggests tapping experts to make informed, evidence-based decisions about policy and practice. SEAs can leverage experts as NDE did when factoring in preK seat cost data provided by R15CC in an effort to secure stabilized funding. Clear, well researched data are further instrumental in presenting compelling cases for policy or practice change to legislative bodies.

The contents of this post were developed by the Region 15 Comprehensive Center. The Region 15 Comprehensive Center is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, the contents of this post do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.