- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Government-funded preschool programs that serve about 1,400 students in Nevada are expected to cover hundreds more children over the next four years, thanks to millions of dollars in federal grant money announced Wednesday.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and state Superintendent Dale Erquiaga said Nevada is one of five states to receive a preschool development grant, which helps states that have small or non-existent state preschool programs for children ages 3 and 4.

The first year’s award is more than $6.4 million, and the state could potentially get more than $43 million over the course of four years if it meets benchmarks in categories such as registration numbers and student proficiency.

Erquiaga said the state hopes to enroll about 3,000 students in the program by the fourth year of grant funding, a number that would account for 15 percent of Nevada students living in households below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

The student expansion will begin in the fall and focus on low-income areas of Clark, Washoe, Lyon, Churchill and Nye counties.

“This investment in young children is a game changer for the next generation of Nevada’s students,” Erquiaga said in a statement.

Nevada ranks among the bottom of states when it comes to enrollment and spending in preschool programs, according to a report released this spring by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

Nevada ranked 36th in student enrollment among 41 states with pre-kindergarten programs, with 3 percent of 4-year-olds enrolled in a program in 2012-2013. Per-pupil spending of $2,397 ranked 33rd, and below the national average of $4,026 per student.

It’s unclear how the new investment will change the rankings, Erquiaga said, because many states are ramping up early childhood education at the same time. But it is expected to boost academic performance among poorer children, who typically enter school with a less expansive vocabulary than their peers and must catch up in reading.

“Without these programs, they will always remain irrevocably behind,” Erquiaga said.

The announcement came the same day that President Barack Obama unveiled $1 billion in public-private investment in early childhood programs. That includes $250 million in Department of Education grants for 18 states, including Nevada, and $500 million in Health and Human Services Department grants so 40 states can expand programs for children from birth to 3 years old.

Another $330 million is coming from dozens of corporations, foundations and individuals as part of a campaign called Invest in US.


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