- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana will receive up to $32 million in federal grant money over four years to improve preschool access for low-income children, a significant boost to state efforts to rework its network of early childhood programs.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Wednesday that Louisiana was one of 18 states to get grants aimed at giving more quality educational opportunities to at-risk children.

“There has been a cry from our state for an equitable early childhood system,” state Superintendent of Education John White said. “This grant is an enormous step forward.”

Louisiana is guaranteed $2.4 million for one year. White said the award will grow to $32 million over the subsequent three years if the state meets the grant terms.

The money will be spent on preschool programs that serve 4-year-olds from low- to moderate-income families. White said the first year’s money will be spent in Monroe and in Caddo, Iberville, Lincoln, Orleans and Rapides parishes.

The dollars come as the state education department is trying to unify a fragmented system of early childhood education across Louisiana, which include Head Start centers, day care facilities and other preschool programs.

White said the state has a shortage of available seats and gaps in quality.

“It remains oftentimes a roll of the dice in terms of quality for parents,” White said.

The dollars will add new seats in early childhood programs and increase the subsidy paid for children already in programs, to improve the facilities’ quality and help them hire college-educated teachers.

White said for the 2015-16 school year, the grant will pay for 340 more children to go to preschool and improve teaching and services for other students. If the state receives the full grant, 4,580 more children will be added to pre-K programs.

The state’s application was nearly derailed earlier this year by Gov. Bobby Jindal. He agreed to submit the grant request after White assured him the dollars wouldn’t be spent on the Common Core education standards.

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