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Educators Say Preschool is Critical, Despite Defeat of Funding Bill

South Dakota is one of only a handful of states that doesn't provide state-funded preschool, but lawmakers have rejected legislation to study the issue for the second year in a row. (Twenty20)
South Dakota is one of only a handful of states that doesn't provide state-funded preschool, but lawmakers have rejected legislation to study the issue for the second year in a row. (Twenty20)
February 28, 2019

PIERRE, S. D. – South Dakota educators fear there's growing inequality between kids who attend preschool programs and those who don't, but lawmakers could not be persuaded of that this legislative session.

South Dakota is one of only seven states that doesn't provide state funding for preschool. House Bill 1175, which would have established a council to study where preschool gaps exist, was defeated in the House State Affairs Committee on a 9-2 vote, with Democrats favoring the bill and Republicans opposed.

According to Mary McCorkle, president of the South Dakota Education Association, studies show kids who receive high-quality education before age 5 have better outcomes than their peers through all 12 grades.

"We know that some of our communities have some early-childhood programs that are going on," McCorkle said, "but there are waiting lists and not every community has that. So, not every child in South Dakota has access to high-quality beginnings."

In arguing against the bill, Rep. Steven Haugaard, R-Renner, called it an attempt at "instilling a socialist agenda into the system," adding that strong families start at home, not in a public-school system.

Supporters of preschool programs say the research is clear that educational opportunities prior to kindergarten can decrease the need for remedial programs.

Since about 74-percent of South Dakota households have two working parents, McCorkle said children in those families may not be kindergarten-ready, because a parent can't afford to stay home and teach them. She worries future generations of South Dakota kids will be at a disadvantage.

"There's never talk about benefits to kids," she lamented. "And when only some children have access to early childhood education, it becomes kind-of a 'have and have-not.'"

The bill would have provided up to $14,000 for a 12-member Early Learning Advisory Council appointed by the governor.

McCorkle said SDEA will try again next year to convince legislators of the merits of statewide Pre-K programs.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD