HELENA -- Twenty-four schools in 10 Montana districts and another half-dozen Head Start/preschool programs have been chosen to receive $15 million to help improve their students' literacy, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau announced Wednesday.
The federal grant money, spread over the next two years, will help the schools expand programs to improve kids' reading skills so the students will have better success at school, she said.
"This grant will allow Montana to build on successful programs and seek out innovative strategies to improve literacy for children of all ages," Juneau said.
Montana is one of six states that was awarded the federal money last fall. On Wednesday, Juneau announced the Montana school districts and preschools that competed for and won individual grants, for this year and the next school year. Each year's total is $7.6 million.
Districts receiving the money are Butte, Anaconda, Hardin, Charlo, Kalispell, Lone Rock Elementary in Stevensville, Libby, Wolf Point, Browning and Great Falls. The grants were awarded to specific schools within each district.
Preschool and Head Start programs in Hardin, Helena, Bozeman and central Montana (Lewistown, Roundup and Harlowton) also will get grants. A fifth, or possibly sixth, preschool award is pending, state officials said Thursday afternoon, and will be decided soon.
Juneau said the grants are targeted at schools with high numbers of kids from poorer families.
"We know that there is an achievement gap between students who live in poverty and those who are more wealthy," she said. "(These schools) are looking for ways to close the gap. When students live in poverty and are coming into school for the first time, they lack a lot of vocabulary and other types of literacy skills."
Students who struggle with reading also are at a higher risk for dropping out of school, so the grant money will give Montana schools "another tool" to improve graduation rates, she said.
Juneau said Montana schools already do a good job at teaching students to read, but that some students reach third grade and aren't reading at the level they should. Students need to be at a level where they can start "reading to learn" in fourth grade, she said.
Some high school students also aren't reading at the level they should be, she said, and the programs enhanced by the grants will help all levels of students move toward the proper reading level.
The money will pay for various things, depending on the schools' individual programs. It may include technology, Saturday school sessions, textbooks, teacher training or "intervention systems," Juneau said.