The Interim finance Committee on Thursday approved Gov. Brian Sandoval’s decision to consolidate four different pre-kindergarten programs under a new office in the Department of Education.
Superintendent of Education Dale Erquiaga said the idea is to combine management of those federal and state programs and, hopefully, improve the quality of pre-K services and, in the next biennium, expand them to more children. He said at present, Nevada services one of the lowest number of poor, language challenged and disabled pre-kindergarten children.
“This is a new office within the Department of Education focused on aligning federal programs with existing and very successful state pre-K programs,” Erquiaga said.
He said the department already runs the state pre-kindergarten program and the program for children with disabilities in the state’s school districts.
The work program presented to lawmakers Thursday would move the federally-funded Head Start program and the Early Care and Education program, also federally funded, from the Department of Health and Human Services into the Department of Education.
He said the number of children served won’t increase this biennium, that the initial focus will be on improving the services offered.
“It’s more about quality in this first year,” he said.
Going forward, he said he and the governor’s office believe combining the programs under one roof will improve access to children who need those services.
He said federal Head Start officials have been working with his staff to accomplish the change, which he said isn’t new to Nevada but has been done in several other states.
Sandoval already ordered the changes by executive order, which IFC chairman Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said is problematic because that isn’t how the budget was approved by the 2013 Legislature.
But she and other members of the committee agreed to move the funding for those different programs to Erquiaga’s department.