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Pre-K Movement Heats Up in States With Small State Programs, or None

The past few weeks have seen an uptick in preschool activists making themselves known in some states that have typically had small (or no) state preschool programs.

A couple in Nebraska, Ron and Cille Williams, donated $2 million to Ron's alma mater, the University of Nebraska, to establish two permanently endowed funds for early education. NBC Nebraska reported on the donation:

A $1 million endowment will provide annual support for the UNK College of Education and its academic and outreach programs related to children from birth to age 8. The endowment will also support UNK's efforts to help develop a highly qualified early-childhood education workforce in the state.

Another $1 million establishes the Cille and Ron Williams Community Chair for Early Childhood Education. The endowment will provide annual support to enable UNK to recruit and support distinguished early-childhood education faculty members.

Nebraska has enrolled significantly more children in its program since 2005, when state legislation allowed 4-year-old to be included in the school district state-aid formula, according to the National Institute for Early Childhood Education.

Separately, in Montana, a mix of kids, parents and advocates descended on the steps of Capitol in Helena Jan. 23 as part of a "Let Them Learn" rally in support of Gov. Steve Bullock's state preschool initiative. The Frozen-themed rally even featured a woman dressed as Elsa, one of the Disney film's two princesses, . Montana was one of the states featured in our recent two-part series on states that do not yet have a state preschool program. 

"In some of our communities, there's already been a publically funded preschool option," Bullock, a Democrat, told Education Week. "Though they haven't been able to reach all of the kids, they've seen incredible results," he said. 

Not everyone in Montana is so excited about the prospect of state-funded care for young children. Republicans in the state's legislature are cautious about getting behind new spending.

"Republican state lawmakers who track education policy said ... they have many questions about Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock's plan for state-funded preschool—including whether it's the best use of state education dollars," read an article in The Helena Independent Record about the criticism Bullock's plan has received.

Still, the proposal has moved steadily forward. And the state now has $37 million in federal funding to work with under the preschool development grant program, which might help Republicans struggling with the spending question.

Many Republican governors and mayors across the country are in full support of early education. Small pilot programs have been popping up district by district in Utah and South Dakota. And in North Dakota, a state senator has taken it on himself to propose a bill that would authorize a state preschool program there. For more on this topic, take a look at our December posts on States That Don't Fund Public Preschool.

Has anyone heard of other pushes for early-education expansion happening in other states that have hung back?

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