State won't apply for $44M federal education grant

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana won't apply for up to $44 million in federal grant money available to the state for early childhood

education programs, Superintendent of Education John White decided Friday, citing divisive debates around the state about

federal intrusion in education.

Several groups had urged White and Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal to seek the federal aid, saying the money would help with

Louisiana's ongoing efforts to strengthen pre-K programs. Jindal left the decision to White.

White wrote to Chas Roemer, president of the

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, that federal funding had

become

a "flashpoint" in local political debates over education in

Louisiana. He said seeking new federal grant money could heighten

those disputes and divert attention from the state's work to

improve early childhood 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 wrote in his

letter. "That is not a distraction or an environment to which

I believe our early childhood progress should be exposed."

The state education department is creating an assessment system for publicly funded early childhood education programs that

will assign letter grades and steer dollars away from facilities deemed low-performing. Pilot projects are underway, with

a statewide program set to begin in 2015.

"Applying for this grant poses a greater risk than opportunity for Louisiana's early childhood progress," White wrote.

White didn't blame anyone directly for his decision, but his comments fold into a larger debate that has taken hold in Louisiana

about the state's use of national testing standards, called the Common Core.

Tea party supporters and some conservative groups are trying to pressure Jindal and White to reverse Louisiana's participation

in Common Core, calling the national standards a tool of federal coercion and a means of "nationalizing" education.

Forty-five states have adopted the national

standards, which define what students need to learn in reading, writing

and math

in each grade and allow states to compare the testing results

against each other. Louisiana is phasing in the standards, with

plans to have them fully in place by the 2014-15 school year.

White supports Common Core, and so far has helped defeat efforts to make Louisiana opt out. White said use of the standards

will better train students for college and careers.

But criticism is growing louder, with Jindal now saying he has some concerns about Common Core and asking White and BESE to

take another look at the standards.

In addition to lodging complaints that Louisiana is abdicating local control of its educational system, critics of Common

Core have raised concerns about privacy issues in sharing student data.

The federal grant money for early childhood education could have raised similar complaints, because one of its uses is for

building data systems to help monitor children's learning.

Thirty-six states were eligible to apply for

the grant dollars, available from the federal Race to the Top program,

an initiative

of President Barack Obama's administration.

Up to eight states will be chosen for funding, and Louisiana would have been eligible for as much as $11 million a year for

four years if selected, White said.