BISMARCKâ€”Preschool benefits young children and should receive state support, North Dakota education officials told state lawmakers on Monday.
Senate Bill 2338 requests $1.5 million for a preschool pilot program. Four school districts would receive state grants to offer early childhood education programs.
To receive a grant, school districts would need to establish an early childhood education advisory council, create a student application process and give priority to students from low-income families.
Devils Lake elementary Principal Debra Follman testified in favor of the bill and said her school district has used stimulus funds to temporarily support a preschool program.
â€œWe have learned over the years that the investment in the education of young children far outweighs the dollars that will be required to help children catch up after they begin their formal schooling,â€ she said.
The waiting list for Head Start far exceeds the needs, leaving some of the stateâ€™s most disadvantaged children without any type of preschool education, Follman said.
â€œKindergarten teachers in our district will vouch for the difference that a preschool program has on students,â€ she said.
North Dakota now has a variety of preschool options, but most are limited due to eligibility, availability and affordability, said JoAnn Brager of the North Dakota Association for the Education of Young Children.
The North Dakota Head Start Association reports waiting lists of 809 income eligible children for Head Start preschool services, she said.
In addition, child care providers are quitting due to opportunities for higher-paid jobs, and western North Dakota is not able to keep up with the needs, Brager said. Families moving to western North Dakota are also looking for preschools, she said.
Early childhood education programs use a play-based, developmentally appropriate curriculum approach, said Barb Arnold-Tengesdal, an assistant education professor at the University of Mary in Bismarck.
â€œIt is not pushing academics down a 4-year-oldâ€™s throat,â€ she said.
The North Dakota Education Association and North Dakota School Boards Association also voiced support for the bill.
No one testified against the bill Monday. The Senate Education Committee did not take immediate action.