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North Dakota Gets on the Preschool Train

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, signed a bill into law on Friday, April 17, providing $3 million in state grants to preschool programs for students from low-income families.

Introduced by state Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, the new law means there will be one less state that does not offer state-funded preschool.

I spoke with Flakoll back in December when I wrote about five of the 10 states identified in the 2013 National Institute of Early Education Research report as not offering state-funded preschool. He said the bill (Senate Bill 2151) the governor has just signed was the next step in a campaign to bring preschool to North Dakota.

To quote myself:

(Flakoll's) first big move was to push for the passage of S.B. 2200 in 2007, which funded full-day kindergarten for districts that wanted it. That program launched in 2009. Since then, North Dakota has begun providing some funding for 3- and 4-year-olds to attend preschool and also created a "Gearing Up for Kindergarten" program for parents and children through the North Dakota State University Extension program.

"We've been pretty methodical," Flakoll said. "Quality is much more important than expediency."

The new law has the support of the state's department of education. 

"Today is a historic day for North Dakota's young children," Kirsten Baesler, state superintendent of public instruction, told WDAZ Television in Grand Forks on Friday.

The voluntary program will begin in the 2016-17 school year and provide preschool "scholarships" directly to preschool programs serving children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Children eligible for free lunch qualify for $2,000 scholarship toward their tuition, and those eligible for reduced-price lunch qualify for  $1,500 toward their tuition. If the $3 million included in the bill is not enough to cover all the applications received, they will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

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