North Dakota Senate Bill Expands Early Childhood Education

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A $6 million measure was recently passed by the North Dakota Senate geared toward expanding the early childhood education program in the state.

In a 33-14 vote, senators voted to set state money aside in order to increase the early childhood education program for the 2015-16 school year.  Advocates hope that the increased funding will cover around half the cost of pre-kindergarten education for 6,000 students, totaling about $1,000 per student.  Students from low-income households would receive around $1,500, writes Mike Nowatzki for The Grand Forks Herald.

According to Tim Flakoll, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and the bill’s prime sponsor, participation in the pre-kindergarten program would be completely voluntary and would better prepare the young students for a life of learning in addition to offering support for working parents.  “Children will only go if their parents wish them to go,” he said.

Senator Joan Heckaman, another sponsor of the bill, said the efforts would give communities who do not currently have early childhood programs the incentive to build them.

Only 36% of three and four-year-olds in the state are currently enrolled in an early childhood program. According to the state Department of Public Instruction, the statistic puts the state as fifth-lowest in the nation.

Although the money would not be available until July 2016, it would be offered to providers at both public and private schools.  The time extension was decided upon in an effort to give school districts time to develop their programs.

Senator Connie Triplett, who opposes the bill, said there is “an enormous and widespread effort to further degrade public school systems across our country” through voucher systems that promote private schools rather than public education.

Senators recently decided to drop a second piece of legislation that would have created pre-kindergarten programs only for public schools at a cost of $26 million each year.

Only 10 states across the country, including North Dakota, do not offer state support for their early childhood education programs, reports the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Two years ago, school districts in the state could use local tax revenue in order to create their own early childhood education programs.  However, according to State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler, only a few districts began to operate approved early childhood education programs in 2013.  Currently, 21 of the 53 counties in the state still do not have early childhood education programs.

Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider called Senate Bill 2151 a good start to increasing the rate of early childhood education programs across the state.

“For years, North Dakota has been lagging behind other states … when it comes to providing access to early childhood education for our youngest and cutest and most adorable residents,” he said.