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Advocate file photo of preschoolers performing in Lafayette, La.

Louisiana is getting nearly $8 million to improve the quality of early childhood education, officials said Wednesday.

All but $800,000 is coming from the federal government and is called a preschool development grant. The rest of the funds are from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

"In recent years Louisiana has worked diligently to create an integrated, efficient early childhood education system through policies that better serve our children and families," state Superintendent of Education John White said in a statement.

"This award is a validation of the state's approach and sets us up to take ambitious next steps," White said.

The money, which has to be spent by December 2019, cannot be used to finance new slots for children from birth to age 4.

It will be used to help local communities make informed decisions on setting up early childhood education sites, aid families who do early childhood education at home and finance professional development for early childhood teachers, according to the state Department of Education.

The money will also help the state launch a program aimed at helping child care sites share resources, including substitute teachers.

While Louisiana serves nearly all four-year-olds, it only serves 7 percent of those from birth to age 3 and 33 percent of three-year-olds in need. About 3,100 children are on a waiting list for services.

A state program that offers child care for parents who work or attend school has also suffered from funding problems.

That effort, called the Child Care Assistance Program, used to serve about 39,000 children compared to about 15,000 last year.

However, a waiting list of about 5,200 children was trimmed by about 4,000 last year, also though an injection of $40 million in federal dollars.

Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, praised the latest announcement.

"This will provide us supports to enhance the quality of our early care and education programs," Bronfin said, also in a statement.

Bronfin said only 15 percent of children in need from birth to age 3 are being served.

"We look forward to future opportunities to increase the publicly-funded seats for our hardworking families who desperately need access to reliable, affordable, quality care for their young children," she said.

The nearly $8 million will also help with changes stemming from child care legislation approved last year.

That measure is paving the way for pilot projects overseen by the state that could serve as models, with the pilots including input from local providers and others on needs and possible public and private funding sources.

The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie.

The changes are being overseen by a 38-member panel.

The state in 2012 launched a push to improve early childhood education, in part by reducing the overlap and confusion that plagued earlier efforts.

Louisiana is one of 13 states awarded money to expand on earlier efforts that began in 2014.


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.