Last Modified: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 2:16 PM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal is being urged to apply for $45 million in federal grant money available to Louisiana for early childhood education programs, but with an Oct. 16 deadline approaching, it's unclear if the state will turn in a request or pass up the chance to get the funding.
Several groups asked Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White to apply for the money, saying it would help the education department with its ongoing efforts to strengthen early childhood education programs around the state.
"We have a number of needs and clearly those needs can only be adequately addressed with some additional funding. We think the state could be competitive," said John Warner Smith, chief executive officer of Education's Next Horizon, an organization involved in the early childhood education revamp.
Jindal's office said the governor is leaving the decision to White's department, and education department spokeswoman Anna Gatlin said Tuesday that White hadn't yet decided whether to apply.
"We will not apply for any funding that comes with strings attached or brings more federal involvement into our education system," Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin said in a statement.
The money is available from the federal Race to the Top program, an initiative of President Barack Obama's administration that has awarded dollars to states through competitive grants for different education initiatives.
Louisiana has previously received funding through Race to the Top. But Jindal, a Republican and possible 2016 presidential candidate, also has turned away some available federal education funding, claiming the regulations tied to the money were too onerous.
White hasn't outlined what his criteria is for determining if the state will apply for this round of Race to the Top money. Smith said he hasn't seen any response to a letter sent earlier this month by Education's Next Horizon and two other groups asking Jindal and White to file a state application.
Smith said Louisiana is eligible for up to $45 million in grant funding over four years.
The money is available as Jindal pushed for a restructuring of early childhood education that involves assigning letter grades to publicly funded programs and developing a common assessment to compare them. Lawmakers agreed to the idea in 2012, in a law known as Act 3.
State funding for early childhood programs will be linked to the assessment system, with dollars steered away from facilities deemed low-performing. The education department has started with pilot projects in individual districts, with a statewide program set to begin in 2015.
Smith said more dollars are needed to properly implement Act 3, for professional development and training for teachers in early childhood programs, technology upgrades and an informational campaign to let parents know about the changes.
"The work that we've done in the last two years actually enhanced our chances of winning," Smith said.
But he also thinks it's likely too late for the state to pull together a request.
"We think that's unfortunate. We've known about this opportunity for months now and waited until this late date," he said. "The needs are there. We just think it's a great funding opportunity that could have been available."