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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published April 08 2013

Bill takes another run at funding early childhood ed in ND

BISMARCK – Despite two failed attempts, eligible school districts may still be able to receive state money to fund early childhood education programs.

House Bill 1356, sponsored by Rep. Jessica Haak, D-Jamestown, would allow the Department of Public Instruction to allocate

$2.6 million in $100,000 grants for early childhood programs, only if there is leftover money in the department’s budget after payments are made to schools.

The measure was heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday.

The bill originally was drafted to allocate $6.15 million to Head Start programs.

It is similar to House Bill 1429 and Senate Bill 2229, both of which asked for about $4.7 million to provide grants for early childhood programs. Both were stripped of their funding, but were amended to allow local school districts to use local taxes to start their own programs, which they have not been able to do.

Under the bill, districts providing early childhood education would have to maintain a full-time equivalent student-teacher ratio of 10-to-one, or 16-to-one if the teacher is assisted by a full-time classroom aide.

One of the largest arguments for proponents is that early childhood education funding is an investment for the state.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler said early childhood programs address at-risk children early and help curb learning disabilities before students get to middle school and high school, saving the state money in the long run.

The largest argument against early childhood programs is they put young children into the school system, when they should be learning from their parents.

Water mediation

Communities expanding outside their existing boundaries will have to come up with a water agreement with a rural water district before receiving any state funding or moving forward with the project.

Under House Bill 1440, a city that wants to provide water services to residents outside the current city boundary will have to submit to the state Water Commission a plan for how they will provide water to the area. Once it’s filed, an agreement must be made with the rural water district.

Sponsors of the bill said there is no current mechanism under state law to help with a dispute. The law only says compensation needs to be paid to the water system if a city moves into it.

If an agreement isn’t made, the issue will be taken to a five-member mediation board, with a mediator and two representatives from both the city and the rural water district. If that is not successful, the issue is turned over to an administrative law judge.

The bill passed the House in late February and the Senate unanimously passed an amended version Monday. It will go back to the House to approve or reject the changes.

Petition fraud

An individual that forges a signature on a petition could be guilty of a Class C felony under a bill passed Monday.

House Bill 1397, which passed the Senate 40-7, would make it a Class C felony to willfully use fake signatures on a petition, or willfully deface, destroy, or conceal any document entrusted to a petitioning committee. A Class C felony carries a maximum of five years jail time, a $5,000 fine, or both.

The measure was amended by the Senate on Monday and will be sent back to the House to approve or reject the changes.

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