PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island has won a $2.8 million federal grant aimed at expanding access to prekindergarten programs in the state.

The state is among 18 that were awarded $250 million from the Preschool Development Grant Program. Thirty-five states had applied, and the winners were announced Wednesday as President Barack Obama held a summit on early childhood education.

The Rhode Island Department of Education, which will receive the money, currently operates 17 pre-K classrooms in eight communities, enrolling around 300 children. State officials say the grant will help them expand the number of classrooms to 60 by 2019.

The state has requested $19 million over four years for the grant, but funding has been approved only for the first year, Sen. Jack Reed’s office said.

“Enrolling more kids in high-quality pre-K gives them an academic head start and a brighter future. This is a smart investment that has positive long-term economic benefits for the state,” Reed said.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who was at the White House summit, spoke during a session about the city’s Providence Talks program. The program works to address the so-called “word gap” and to improve children’s language exposure. The program won a $5 million contest created by then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2013.

During Taveras’ unsuccessful run for governor, he proposed expanding pre-K in the state. He said the grant shows the city and state are leading in the area of early childhood education.

“It’s a great step forward. It’s another step forward,” he said.

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