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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 27 2013

Moorhead school officials excited by all-day kindergarten prospects

MOORHEAD – The prospect of getting state funding for all-day kindergarten had Moorhead School District teachers and administrators smiling Wednesday after a round-table discussion with state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.

There’s $40 million for all-day kindergarten in Gov. Mark Dayton’s $640 million K-12 and higher education plan, Cassellius said.

About 54 percent of the state’s school districts offer all-day kindergarten, but with the funds, Cassellius anticipates that will go up to 85 percent.

“We want to make sure it’s accessible to everybody,” she said.

Moorhead would like to be among the districts to take advantage of that.

“We’ve had discussions about all-day kindergarten. It looks like it will happen. It looks like a matter of when,” Assistant Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak said.

The district has a Kinder-Plus fee-based full-day kindergarten program, with 60 percent of families taking part, he said.

Kindergarten teacher Su Botner said it’s a struggle to teach kindergarteners all they must know in a half-day format.

“I, of course, like how the all-day every day kindergarten is in the spotlight,” Botner said.

Cassellius met for about 45 minutes with 18 educators at the Probstfield Center for Education.

The governor’s budget is “one of the biggest investments” in education in years, with a strong focus on early childhood education, she said.

Other initiatives Dayton proposes in the $344 million he’s targeted for pre-kindergarten through grade 12 are:

• A $118 million increase in the funding formula to provide another $52 per pupil for all students.

• $44 million to fund 10,000 early childhood education scholarships.

Another 25,000 to 35,000 families could use aid, Cassellius said, but the state’s budget can’t cover the full need. “I’m a Head Start baby myself. I’m a big believer,” she said.

• $125 million for special education.

• $119 million to promote integrated and stable schools and increase achievement among students of color.

• $10 million for teacher evaluations.

• $8.9 million for English Language Learning.

Dayton’s budget extends funding for ELL from five to seven years.

• $7.4 million for school-based mental health grants to ensure students with mental health issues have the necessary support.

• $4.5 million for Regional Centers of Excellence to help struggling schools.

• $1 million for bullying prevention and $1.8 million to reduce special education paperwork.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583