State will not seek federal pre-K dollars

The state has opted against applying for up to $45 million in federal funds to improve pre-kindergarten classes.

In a letter, state Superintendent of Education John White said seeking the funds “poses a greater risk than opportunity for Louisiana’s early childhood progress.”

White said the state is setting up networks statewide as part of its push to revamp the pre-K system.

“While federal funds could support some network activities, federal grant funding has recently become a flashpoint for those concerned about federal overreach in Louisiana schools,” he said in a letter to Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“Whatever one thinks about those concerns, there is no doubt that the political debate has become a distraction from the work of educating children to higher standards,” White said.

“This is not a distraction or an environment to which I believe our early childhood progress should be exposed,” he said.

The money is available to Louisiana and 35 other states through a federal competition called “Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge.”

Earlier this month, more than half a dozen groups asked White and Gov. Bobby Jindal to apply for the dollars.

States have until Oct. 16 to enter the contest. Winners will be announced in December.

While amounts vary, Louisiana is one of 10 states that could land up to $45 million over four years.

White told Roemer that three to eight states will get dollars and the money could not fund additional pre-K seats.

Groups that urged the state to apply included Education’s Next Horizon, the Child Care Association of Louisiana and the Louisiana Partnership for Children & Families.

John Warner Smith, chief executive officer of Education’s Next Horizon, said the state’s decision “is not surprising but disappointing nonetheless.”

“I don’t quite understand the logic,” Smith said in an email response to questions.

“We are disappointed that the state has chosen not to seek federal education funding that would help the children of Louisiana who are most in need and at risk,” he wrote.

All three groups are among those involved in the pre-K overhaul, which stems from a 2012 state law.