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Published February 21 2013

Forum editorial: Childhood education bill: ‘yes’

Early childhood education in North Dakota achieves excellent results, even as Head Start and other pre-kindergarten programs get mixed grades in other states. That’s the conclusion of parents of preschool children, the state’s top education official and a legislator who is an experienced classroom teacher.

That clear message did not get through to a majority of the Senate Appropriations Committee that voted a do-not-pass recommendation for legislation to fund grants to enhance and expand preschool education. The vote suggests opponents of the bill could have used preschool education when they were kids.

Earlier this week, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler and Sen. Nicole Poolman, R-Bismarck, conducted a news conference in which they enthusiastically endorsed Senate Bill 2229, which seeks $4.7 million to fund the grants. Poolman is a sponsor of the bill, along with Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, Rep. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, Sen. Phil Murphy, D-Portland, and Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Dickinson. There’s a companion bill in the House.

It’s good legislation that should have sailed through the Appropriations Committee. It won a unanimous do-pass in the Education Committee.

Early childhood programs have generated impressive results in North Dakota, according to teachers, parents and administrators. The findings in at least one national study, that by third grade children in early education programs show no difference in progress over kids who were not in such programs, don’t hold true in North Dakota. That’s no surprise.

The real test of success comes when measuring the quality of subsequent elementary school curricula. If quality is poor, it follows that progress made in early childhood programs might stall. But in schools where the quality of the elementary classroom experience is exceptional – as in most school districts in North Dakota – early childhood education makes a positive, measurable difference. Early childhood education enhances a child’s ability to thrive in a stimulating classroom with a good teacher.

Baesler, who was elected in a landslide in November, and Poolman, who is new to the state Senate, are Republicans, as are all but two of the bill’s sponsors. It might seem out of character for them to advocate for a hefty appropriation for early childhood education, but it’s not. Baesler and Poolman are experienced, compassionate and results-oriented educators. The other sponsors know from their constituents that pre-K education works. All of them know what they are talking about. Despite the committee’s indefensible do-not-pass, the sponsors have the credibility to convince their colleagues to support the bill when it comes up for a full Senate vote, expected early next week. A big bipartisan “yes” vote would be good news for North Dakota’s children.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.