782 kids served in 1st year of expanded Nevada pre-K program | NevadaAppeal.com

782 kids served in 1st year of expanded Nevada pre-K program

Michelle Rindels
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — A multimillion-dollar federal grant helped Nevada enroll 782 low-income children into preschool last year — a number slightly below what state education officials called their aspirational enrollment goal of 900.

The Nevada Department of Education announced results Friday for a federal preschool development grant that’s expected to triple the number of classroom slots available for Nevada’s 4-year-olds. It’s an effort to boost the prospects of at-risk children and improve Nevada’s low marks for preschool access.

“While our first-year goal was ambitious, our first-year results are good,” state Superintendent Steve Canavero said in a statement. “I’m optimistic that the next three years of funding will continue to provide meaningful support in areas such as literacy to children and their families.”

The federal grant, announced in December 2014, is expected to bring $43 million to the state over four years. Nevada lawmakers applied another $23 million of state money toward the program.

The state’s preschool program had 1,400 students enrolled in half-day classes prior to receiving the grant. It’s expected to grow by 2,900 slots — all involving full-day instruction — by the end of the fourth year of funding.

Nevada fell short of its initial enrollment goal for a combination of reasons, including getting enough students and getting enough teachers for the program, Education Department spokesman Greg Bortolin said.

The state has a severe teacher shortage that’s also affecting the preschool program, which requires teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree in education and have an early childhood teacher’s license or endorsement.

The department is exploring changes to certification programs that could boost the teacher supply, and schools with the program are redoubling their recruitment efforts inside and outside of the state, Bortolin said.

Federal money targeted states such as Nevada where children have limited access to pre-K programs.

A 2015 report published by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University ranked Nevada 37th for access among 41 states with state-funded preschool. Nevada ranked 34th for state spending on preschool.

The rankings are based on data from before the preschool grant took effect in Nevada.