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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published March 20 2013

ND Early Childhood funding has second hearing

BISMARCK - Supporters of early childhood education urged a House Committee on Wednesday to provide state funding for grants that will support and create preschool programs around the state.

Sen. Nicole Poolman, R-Bismarck, sponsor of Senate Bill 2229, along with Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler, and early childhood teachers, hope the House Education Committee will provide some state funding to help after it stripped the funding from a House version of the proposal.

The bill would provide DPI with about $4.7 million to distribute $100,000 grants to districts wanting to establish a preschool program.

The concept also was proposed in House Bill 1429, which was sent to the Senate by a 49-41 vote, but was stripped of its funding and amended down to allow local tax dollars to supplement the program -- a concept that gives local districts the ability to raise funding on their own.

Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, said the committee has seen many state entities come out asking for state help after federal funding has dried up, which has happened with preschool funding.

Nathe agrees the program has many benefits to a child, but wonders if it’s an important issue, why local districts can’t levy a tax to support it.

“The House doesn’t have the appetite for using state funding,” he said. “If communities think this is a good program, they should step up.”

Poolman told the House Education Committee she hopes there can be a compromise with the funding and is willing to see fewer dollars spent, but won’t settle for nothing.

“A compromise between $4.7 million and zero is not zero,” she said.

Baesler said 47 school districts have preschool programs now, supported by local contributions, with some using federal funding provided for special education.

She said it may be difficult to do because it’s “not the sentiment of North Dakotans to have local property tax mills levied,” especially for rural areas that struggle the most to find local revenues.

So far, a dozen school districts have asked for financial help to start a program, Baesler said.

The funding is only available through July 30, 2015.

Nathe said some amendments are being drafted, which will be heard during the committee discussion over the bill next week.