Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has opted against applying for up to $60 million in federal aid to improve early childhood education in Louisiana, officials said Wednesday.
However, a spokesman for Jindal said no final decision has been made.
The application is due by Oct. 19, officials said.
Four people familiar with the issue said Wednesday that, while they have not gotten any formal notice, they understand that the state will not pursue the money.
Exactly why is unclear.
“I am disappointed,” said Linda Johnson, of Plaquemine, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and a participant in some of the discussions.
“I am a firm believer in early childhood programs,” Johnson said.
“I really thought it was a great opportunity for our state,” she said.
John Warner Smith, chief executive officer of Education’s Next Horizon and part of the team that worked on the grant, said state employees have stopped working on the application, which he called disappointing.
“It is a $60 million opportunity for Louisiana,” Smith said.
The money represents a third round of “Race To The Top” dollars.
Louisiana failed on two earlier attempts to land any federal aid in a nationwide contest by President Barack Obama’s administration that was touted as a way to reward education innovation.
This one is called the “Early Learning Challenge Grant” and is aimed at improving the quality of early learning, and closing the achievement gap for children with high needs because of poverty and other issues.
About $500 million is at stake, and Louisiana would be eligible for up to $60 million over four years based on its population, officials said.
Kyle Plotkin, a spokesman for Jindal, issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon that said the state Department of Education and the Department of Children and Family Services are trying to devise ways to improve early childhood efforts.
The agencies “are carefully evaluating whether this grant or any other grant is a good fit for Louisiana” and whether the aid would include any “hidden federal mandates or requirements that could increase bureaucratic obstacles” that hinder assistance for children, the statement says.
Backers of the grant said that, as in previous efforts, they thought the state had a good chance of being picked.
Supporters also cited the fact that the state has worked to improve early childhood programs since 2004 and is one of 15 states with a sophisticated rating system that’s been in place since 2007.
Pre-kindergarten classes have also grown considerably in the past decade.
Teams from the state Department of Education, Department of Children and Family Services, Office of Public Health and others have been working for the past two months on a possible grant.
Geoffrey Nagle, director of the Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health at Tulane University and one of the participants, said Wednesday he is 99 percent sure that the state will not file an application.
BESE member Johnson, who attended some of the meetings, said the competition attracted a wide array of early childhood advocates.
“They all seemed very anxious for us to pursue this money,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what has happened.”
Early childhood education has come under scrutiny in recent weeks.
Some state education leaders complained in August that Louisiana’s pre-kindergarten programs have become a confusing array of efforts with varying standards, costs and successes.
Smith said the $60 million could have helped produce a less fragmented system.
State Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, who is involved in early childhood education issues, said he understood that the state would not seek the money but did not know specific reasons for the decision.
“I really wanted them to,” Carter said. “I am disappointed that they didn’t.”