Special Report: Early Education

State Funding Sends Thousands of Young Minnesotans to Preschool

MINNESOTA – More than 20,000 of  Minnesota’s 4-year-olds are heading to preschool this year because of state funding.

This has been great news for some rural Northland areas.

However, it is having an impact on area child care centers.

As a result of the 2017 Legislative Session, Minnesota lawmakers are providing $50 million in new, one-time funding to 59 school districts for voluntary pre-k or school readiness plus programs over the next two years.

“That pays for teachers, that pays for paraprofessionals, it allows for benefits for those folks,” explained DaNeil Sirjord, the Early Childhood and Family Education Director for St. Louis County Public Schools.

The St. Louis County Public School District is receiving $609, 642 of that to split between South Ridge and Cherry Schools.

Cherry has now expanded from a two-day program to three full days.

“So we’re able to not only expand in time but provide more opportunities to educate students,” explained Cherry School Principal Michael Johnson.

This funding provided Cherry School with an additional classroom and teacher.

In the classroom, 29-year teaching veteran, Debra Spencer, tells FOX 21 she thinks the pre-k program is a recipe for success.

“Kindergarten isn’t as scary because they know the building, they know the routine, they know what to do when they go to the lunch or to the gym,” Spencer said.

These schools, aren’t the only education opportunity to teach these youngsters.

Melissa Reisdorf, the director of Little Hearts Preschool LLC, says her preschool has a three-star rating with Parent Aware and offers the same education children would see in schools, “we do lesson plans; we do conferences twice a year.”

Reisdorf also tells us, this new funding is affecting the preschool’s bottom line.

“Back in May we lost several who were moving to go to different schools for that preschool program and it takes out of our program,” Reisdorf told FOX 21.

Something she says they can’t compete with is the pay offered by the public schools because of their access to the funding.

“We need our teachers to run our classrooms. We need our teachers to do our conferences. We need our teachers to lead a lesson. If we don’t have them, it’s difficult,” said Reisdorf.

Their preschool program is the most profitable part of their daycare center and this trend is worrying.

“Losing children we don’t have the income coming in to pay our teachers,” said Reisdorf.

Nancy Thomas is the director of Happy Time Day Care Center.

She tells FOX 21 she’s seen the same slide in enrollment, releasing this statement:

“In my opinion preschool children do not belong in elementary schools. They need programs that can offer home-like environments and support them emotionally. They need playgrounds with natural environments that are appropriate for preschool children. My greatest concern with preschools in elementary schools is the children will be taught a “watered down” Kindergarten curriculum that will focus on academics and reduce physical activity and time to play.”

With all of this said, all the educators from both forms of education agree on one thing – educating Minnesota’s youngest minds, one way or another is what’s most important in the end.

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