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Downstate Pre-K programs targeted in new federal grant

James Dawson, Delaware Public Media
Gov. John Carney (D) reads to pre-schoolers at Wilmington's Latin American Community Center after announcing a new federal grant award.

Pre-school programs in Kent and Sussex Counties are getting a boost from a new federal grant.

Gov. John Carney (D) announced the $7.6 million award Thursday while visiting classrooms at Wilmington’s Latin American Community Center.

That cash will be spent over the next five years to increase slots for kids from low-income families south of the canal. It will also pay for health, dental and mental checkups, as well as teacher training.

Carney says investing in such programs will make Delaware more prosperous, as well as cut the likelihood of a child serving prison time by 20 percent throughout their life.

Maria Matos, president and CEO of the community center, says her programs have benefitted from a similar, $7.2 million grant the state received in 2015.

She also commended Carney for not making cuts to early childhood education in his proposed budget.

“He recognizes that if you don’t give poor children – it doesn’t matter what color they are, they can be purple with polka dots – if they’re poor they need an early start and we have to give that to them or they’re not going to succeed at school,” Matos said.

Legislators have invested tens of millions of dollars in pre-K education over the past decade with the backing of former Gov. Jack Markell (D).

State Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington South) helped unveil the grant, saying she and other state officials need to keep pushing to better fund all forms of education in Delaware.

“We cannot stop here. This is the structural foundation of the bridge that we need to build for education up and down the state with every child whether they’re in a charter school, whether they’re in public education or private school,” Keeley said.

The percentage of low-income children enrolled in highly rated programs has grown from five percent in 2011 to 78 percent as of last year.

203 programs are currently rated as five-star – the highest level of achievement.

But most of those are concentrated in New Castle County, according to a state database, leaving parents in more rural areas with fewer options.

The new grant will be distributed over the next five years.

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