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AZ to receive federal money to improve preschools

Published: Dec. 11, 2014 at 11:12 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:14 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The U.S. Department of Education recently announced Arizona is one of five states receiving federal dollars to improve preschool programs. Arizona is being awarded $20 million, the largest amount of the group.

According to the National Education Association, Arizona spends the lowest amount of dollars per student in the nation. During the 2012-2013 school year, the state fell more than 35 percent below the national average for public elementary and secondary schools for per student spending.

"Arizona schools have  been struggling to obtain adequate resources and this federal grant will help a great deal," U.S. Representative Ron Barber said in a news release. "There is overwhelming evidence from numerous studies that shows a strong preschool program helps launch young children into a more productive education."

Fifteen high-need communities across the state have been identified and categorized by zip codes.

In an e-mail, the Deputy Associate Superintendent for Early Childhood Education with the Arizona Department of Education said the Sunnyside Unified School District is on that list of targeted communities.

The district's preschool program is located at the Ocotillo Early Learning Center near Drexel and Campbell on the south side. It is so popular, officials tell us there is always a waiting list of up to 200 students at any given time.

Although it is too early to tell if and how much money the district will receive, Paul Ohm, Principal of the Ocotillo Early Learning Center is thrilled about the federal grant.

He said the money will create the opportunity to develop the program and open more spots so they do not have to turn away as many people.

"85 percent of our preschoolers come from homes that are at or below the national poverty level and receive free or reduced lunches, so the need for this federal funding is great," Ohm said. "If we received the money, it would go to expanding classrooms, teacher development, and open slots so the school doesn't have to turn so many kids away."

Ohm said there are 350 students in the SUSD's preschool program. Last year, there were 475. Ohm said state funding cuts forced the district to shrink the number of preschool students, staff, and classrooms.

The Arizona Department of Education expects the 2014 Preschool Development Grant Program money by the end of this year. 

The timeline of when it'll be dispersed to districts is unclear, but hope parents and students can start seeing the benefits and improvements sometime next year. 

To learn more about SUSD's Early Childhood Learning Center, click here: http://www.susd12.org/district/ocotillo-early-learning-center

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