Second time’s the charm, as Crookston Public Schools awarded $275K to expand programming for three-year-olds

    Persistence has paid off for Crookston Public Schools, as Denice Oliver’s second attempt to secure additional state funds to expand early childhood/pre-K programming in Crookston has been successful.

    The Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s office has announced the latest round of state investment in early childhood and pre-K programming in school districts across the state and, according to their numbers, Crookston Public Schools is in line to receive an estimated $275,647, which could be enough to make early childhood and pre-K educational programming available to 46 additional children here.

    Oliver, the principal at Washington School but also the director of Early Childhood Family Education and Community Education, applied for the funding a couple years ago even though the odds were stacked against getting any funds approved at that time. But the thinking, Superintendent Chris Bates said, was that Crookston needed to get its intentions to expand programming at least in the pipeline for potential funding in the future. Encouraged in part by the Minnesota School Boards Association, Oliver made a second attempt in the latest round of funding, and funding was approved for Crookston.

    In a nutshell, Oliver tells the Times, the additional state investment will allow Crookston Public Schools to provide more programming for three-year-olds.

    “School Readiness is geared toward three-year-olds but we prioritize four-year-old children, and we typically fill all of our four-year-old slots,” she explained. “This will allow us to open up a morning program for three-year-olds, and also make available more School Readiness slots for four-year-olds at Washington.”

    There are still details to finalize, Oliver added, such as certain criteria/risk factors that families will need to meet in order to receive the programming, known as School Readiness-Plus, for free.

    “This is all part of Governor Dayton’s goal to provide quality, free early childhood programming for children,” Oliver said.

    “This is very good news for us,” Bates said.
    
Dayton and the Legislature

    In 2016, Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature invested $25 million in ongoing funds for school-based pre-K programs. In total, 74 school districts received the funding, serving 3,000 four-year-olds during the 2016-17 school year. Those school districts will continue receiving funding for their pre-K programming for the 2017-18 school year, and beyond.

     This year, Dayton proposed investing an additional $175 million to expand pre-K for 17,100 Minnesota children, and the legislature agreed to provide $50 million in new, one-time funding, to be used for either voluntary pre-K or School Readiness plus programs over the next two years. This summer, 223 Minnesota school districts and charter schools applied for that new state funding, including Crookston, seeking funding for 243 voluntary pre-K sites and 84 School Readiness Plus sites that would have served over 12,000 four-year-olds. Fifty-nine of those school districts, serving about 3,000 kids, were awarded funding.

    “About 9,000 more four-year-olds could have – and should have – gone to high-quality preschool programs this year. Those programs would have given them a better start in school, and saved their families thousands of dollars,” said Lt. Governor Tina Smith. “We have made significant, meaningful progress to expand access to early learning opportunities in Minnesota. But we have so much more work to do to ensure that all children, everywhere in Minnesota get the world-class educations they need and deserve. Our families, our economy, and our future depend on it.”

    Every child deserves the chance to have a great start,” said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “The opportunity to attend a high-quality pre-K program can make an enormous difference in a student’s school years and beyond. Too many children in Minnesota are still waiting in line for their chance to go to preschool, and we need to keep working to make sure they are given that opportunity.”