Governor Steve Bullock today touted the economic and educational benefits of early childhood education during a tour of three STARS Preschool classrooms in Billings, Lockwood, and Shepherd.
“We are finally starting to make this long overdue investment in high-quality, early childhood education. We know it works and we know it costs us not to invest in our kids,” said Governor Bullock. “These children now have a brighter future. The economic and educational opportunities that come with preschool services will benefit our state for many years to come – and we ought to make it a reality for all of our kids in Montana.”
Governor Bullock worked with the 2017 Montana Legislature to secure the state’s first-ever investment in publicly-funded, high-quality early childhood education. HB 639 passed with bipartisan support and directs $6 million over two years to implement the STARS preschool pilot program. Until last year, Montana was one of only six states that had not invested state funds for public preschool.
Seventeen programs across the state were selected through a competitive grant process to participate in the pilot and expand access to high-quality preschool for Montana children and families. Grantees represent a diverse group of rural and urban communities, as well as public school, Head Start and private child care providers. Over 300 children are enrolled in STARS Preschool classrooms.
At Explorer’s Academy (Billings’ Head Start), Governor Bullock visited with parents and staff about the benefits of STARS Preschool and read to the kids. Explorers Academy has a wait list that averages 150-200 children each year and are utilizing STARS Preschool to serve more at-risk children. They have STARS Preschool classrooms in Billings and in Laurel.
At Lockwood Preschool, Governor Bullock visited with Superintendent Novasio and staff about the benefits of STARS Preschool and joined the students for lunch. Lockwood Public Schools has two STARS Preschool classrooms, serving a total of 35 students.
At Kountry Kare in Shepherd, Governor Bullock toured the one of 7 private providers in STARS Preschool. Two teachers at Kountry Kare are registered with the Child Care Apprenticeship Program through the Montana Department of Labor & Industry and Early Childhood Project. Apprentices receive on-the-job training with support of a mentor, earn college-level credits, as well as a nationally-recognized Child Care Development Specialist Certificate.
60% of children served in STARS preschool classrooms are “high needs,” meaning they fall into one or more of these categories: low income, receiving special services, engaged in mental health services and supports, enrolled tribal members, children of teen parents, homeless or at risk of being homeless.
Children with high-quality early learning opportunities are more likely to read at grade level, graduate from high school, and earn more money. Every $1 spent on high-quality preschool programs creates $7 in future savings to the communities and states that invest. Early interventions such as preschool result in savings down the road to the state for special education, child protection services, corrections, and safety net programs.
Governor Bullock will be asking the 2019 Montana Legislature to again secure funding for publicly-funded, high-quality early childhood education.
Visit www.starspreschool.mt.gov for more information.