Federal grant to aid reading education

Louisiana will get $142.4 million in federal aid over five years to improve reading and writing skills for public school students and others, state officials said Monday.

The state will get $28.5 million per year to help about 40,000 students initially, and more later.

The federal program is called Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grant through the U.S. Department of Education.

Louisiana is one of six states picked out of 35 applicants.

Local school districts will be awarded funds based on the strength of their applications, officials of the state Department of Education said.

The funds are supposed to aid students and teachers and pay for technology that improves literacy skills, especially for disadvantaged students.

“In a state with one of the highest poverty rates, Louisiana’s students are among the most disadvantaged in the nation,” the state’s application for aid says.

The goal is for all students to be literate by the third grade.

The rate is 69 percent now.

State efforts to improve literacy skills often focus on students from kindergarten through third grade.

“This is the first time that we have had a grant that encompassed birth to grade 12,” said Kerry Laster, deputy superintendent of the state Department of Education and one of the officials involved in the application.

Laster said 18-21 school districts are expected to apply initially and that 31 of Louisiana’s 70 school districts are expected to take part eventually.

She said districts picked will have about $1 million each to spend on literacy skills for personnel, intervention, training and travel.

The first round of dollars is set to arrive around Oct. 1.

School districts that qualify for aid are expected to be notified in the spring.

The federal grant requires that at least 15 percent of the grant be used for youngsters from zero to age 5 and 40 percent to aid students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Another 20 percent is supposed to aid middle school students, 20 percent for high school students and 5 percent for administrative costs.

Jill Slack, who is director of literacy for the department, played a key role in the development of the state’s application, Laster said.

The process began about six months ago.

“This grant will allow us to substantially boost the reach of effective state and local literacy efforts,” acting state Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler said in a prepared statement.