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SD Legislative Session 'Opened Door' for Early-Childhood Education

South Dakota is one of only six states that doesn't fund preschool education. (LucÚlia Ribeiro/Flickr)
South Dakota is one of only six states that doesn't fund preschool education. (LucÚlia Ribeiro/Flickr)
May 5, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. – Although two pieces of legislation on early childhood education were deferred to the 41st legislative day, South Dakota advocates for young children say they're optimistic because the topic is now on the table.

Senate Bills 155 and 156 would have established an early-childhood education pilot program and an Early Learning Advisory Council, respectively. The Rushmore State is one of only six that doesn't fund preschool.

However, Kathy Cruse, executive director of the South Dakota Head Start Association, says state Sen. Billie Sutton put the issue on the legislative agenda.

"We just really appreciated that Sen. Sutton opened the door on this, and there are some really good conversations taking place," she says.

Cruse says South Dakota is one of three states without an Early Learning Advisory Council. State lawmakers' main concern with funding early-childhood education is the cost.

But Cruse adds that there are many benefits to funding early learning, especially for children from low-income families who often can't afford preschool.

Studies have shown that early-childhood education can close the achievement gap between low-income and affluent students - and Cruse says parents in rural parts of the state struggle to find any childcare for their kids.

"We've got real areas of 'desert' in the state, where people do not have access to child care," she adds. "And, you know, with South Dakota having such a high percentage of both parents working outside the home, the child care's pretty important."

She says one solution could be to help elementary schools in these areas provide child care and preschool programs, to offset some of the costs of building new facilities.

The organization South Dakota KIDS COUNT has a wrap-up of how legislation affecting kids fared this session on its website.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - SD