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More details on new Louisiana child literacy grant from feds

New details have emerged on Louisiana’s $142.4 million literacy grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The program aims to expand child reading and writing proficiency from birth to high school graduation.

Previously, The American Independent reported The Pelican State was one of six states out of 35 that applied to receive money from the federal Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grant. The new dollars will build on the model the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) erected through the , which since 2007-2008, has led to increased performance in participating schools on the state’s standardized tests and exceeded the results posted by the state, on average.

Funding is expected to come around in the spring, and local education agencies (LEA) such as school districts or charter school programs will be invited to submit funding proposals, with awards given based on the strength of the LEA’s application.

“Applicants also need to demonstrate buy-in from their superintendent and principals, including examples of previous and/or ongoing literacy efforts,” explains Rene Greer, communications director for LDOE. “They must also demonstrate a team-based philosophy for literacy improvement, incorporating principal, teachers, and parents — because the involvement of all these stakeholders, particularly parents, is critical to successful implementation of the grant.”

LEAs receiving grant dollars will have to follow closely the age-specific distribution of funds as laid out by the U.S. Dept. of Education. As stipulated by the contract details, 15 percent of the grant must be set aside for children from birth through age 5; 40 percent of the federal funds must go toward supporting students in grades K-5; 20 percent of the federal aid goes to support middle school students; and 20 percent will go to support high school students. The remaining five percent will help towards staffing and other administrative expenses.

In assuring LEAs reach out to the youngest crop of students, the applicants must include a cluster of high-need schools that serve each age level. The cluster of schools will be asked to include nonprofit or school-based pre-K programs, like the federal Head Start centers, libraries and the state’s successful LA4 classrooms, a pre-K program. The participating parties must show evidence of previous success, says Greer.

LDOE will work with LEAs to reach out to daycare centers and young families whose children are not currently enrolled in school as part of the literacy development grant.

Since low reading skills are correlated with economically disadvantaged households, LDOE will have a mechanism in place assuring grant winners will select schools with the most disadvantaged students. Those include children that are living in poverty, are homeless, at risk to drop out of school, young parents themselves, have circled through the justice system or have disabilities. In April, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a report that looked at students born between 1979 and 1989 and determined “that Students who have lived in poverty are three times more likely to drop out or fail to graduate on time than their more affluent peers; if they read poorly, too, the rate is six times greater than that for all proficient readers.”

The state will monitor student performance through a series of benchmarks, says Greer.

As part of a new set of standards measuring reading skills for young students, called Students Enter Kindergarten Ready to Learn, the state hopes that by 2014, 65 percent of kindergarteners will be reading proficiently based on the DIBELS test, says Greer.

Other ideas, like donating books to households, will be at the discretion of the local school agencies.

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