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Several area school districts have received millions in grant awards to expand full-day pre-kindergarten and eliminate “non-essential” testing of children.

The award of full-day pre-K grants, an education priority under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, will enable Cheektowaga Central Schools to offer full-day pre-kindergarten programs for the first time this fall and allow the Buffalo school district to provide full-day prekindergarten programs to more than 200 additional children. Niagara Falls also will receive pre-K expansion money.

But some education organizations are already criticizing the grant awards as insufficient to help most school districts outside of New York City.

Meanwhile, Buffalo, Williamsville and Erie 1 BOCES have received $700,000 combined grant money from the state Education Department to support “efforts to eliminate locally adopted tests that do not contribute to teaching and learning” or “improve high-quality assessments already in use.”

Though Buffalo already offers full-day prekindergarten in every elementary school, the newly announced $2.6 million grant from the state will allow Buffalo to expand full-day pre-K offerings at Houghton Academy School 69, Waterfront Elementary School 95, Frank Sedita Elementary School 30 and Bilingual Center School 33, said Kathleen A. Fennie, supervisor of early childhood education.

In addition, the money will enable eight community-based organizations that currently offer part-day pre-K programs to expand to 15 full-day classrooms, Fennie said.

Meanwhile, Cheektowaga Central Schools will be able to deliver full-day prekindergarten programs for the first time thanks to a $740,000 grant award, said Assistant Superintendent Mary Morris.

Cheektowaga currently offers half-day pre-K programs to nearly 70 children in the district but now will have the opportunity to offer full-day programs to up to 94 children thanks to the grant, Morris said.

This includes converting the half-day programs already offered at the district’s elementary school and Mary Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School, Morris said. Two new community providers, Watch Me Grow and Little Angels day care centers, also will offer full-day pre-kindergarten programs for the first time.

School bus services will be offered to all locations, Morris said. “We’re very excited.”

Also, the Niagara Falls city school district received a $289,131 award to offer and expand prekindergarten programs to full-day programs.

Silver Creek and Salamanca city school districts each received $180,000 grants as well.

The money is part of $340 million in pre-K grants awarded throughout the state, $300 million of which is going to New York City.

This year’s state budget included an emphasis on early education.

“The awards we are announcing today will enable tens of thousands of children to attend pre-K classes and represent another step in the state’s work to prepare our students to compete in the 21st century economy,” Cuomo stated.

Leaders of the Alliance of Quality Education, however, stated that the grant awards don’t provide enough support to upstate districts.

“In other news, the state is giving $400,000 to Erie 1 BOCES, $200,000 to Buffalo Public Schools and $100,000 to the Williamsville Central Schools in special “Teaching Is Core” grants to address criticism that districts are needlessly over-testing children.

That money is part of $9.2 million in grants distributed statewide to all large urban school districts and BOCES organizations, as well as local districts and school district consortia.

“At the state level, we haven’t increased the number of tests we administer, and virtually all of the tests we give are required by federal law,” said Education Commissioner John King, defending the state’s use of Common Core assessments. “Unfortunately, due to various pressures at the federal, state and local level, testing has increased in many districts in ways that do not always support good instruction and sometimes even crowd out time for student learning.”

email: stan@buffnews.com