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Alaska, Montana Legislatures Reject Preschool-Funding Measures

State preschool-funding measures took a hit last week from lawmakers in two large, rural states, although proponents of snubbed proposals insist they're not done yet. 

In Alaska, a broad budget bill restoring $2 million in funding for a prekindergarten program was rejected by the Republican-controlled legislature on March 12. Some Alaskan lawmakers have a squabble with fudning public preschool at all, not just with increasing state budgets.

"How about pre-preschool?" said Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, according to an article on JuneauEmpire.com. "How about pre-pre-pre? How far back do you start? Do you start education in the maternity ward?"

In fact, some experts do advocate starting education—parent education, at least—in the maternity ward. But apparently, that program won't be coming to Alaska any time soon.

"The issue is not dead," Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, told the Juneau Empire, referring to public education funding more broadly, which suffered after the March 12 vote. "I believe that the education funding issue will be resolved in the final days [of negotiations]." 

In Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock's proposed $37 million preschool program was voted down by the Republican-controlled House on March 10. But the two-year public preschool proposal is not dead, according to Denise Juneau, the state's Democratic schools superintendent. She told The Missoulian that she expects supporters to try to insert the proposal in the budget bill again this week.

Currently, Montana is one of only a handful of states with no state-funded public preschool program. The state won $10 million for the first year of a Preschool Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Education in December. Some of that money could go toward the preschool proposal that was just rejected by the state's legislature, but if the legislation funding request is ultimately not approved, that won't affect the grant, according to Allyson Hagen, a spokesperson for the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

"Work on the grant has already started and will continue whether the legislative proposal passes or not," Hagen wrote by email. 

The legislature will consider another version of its budget bill, which will again contain the governor's proposal, on Thursday, March 19.

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