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Pre K

In The Margins

by Lori Walsh

More and more states are providing publicly funded preschool. South Dakota is one of seven states that doesn’t.

Evaluating the data on early childhood learning seems complicated because people on either side of the issue tend to bring their own studies into conversational battle. Economist Emily Oster scoured the data on early learning for her book “Cribsheet: A Data Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting from Birth to Preschool.”

“When we look at the data, I think there is, particularly around this question of preschool, some evidence that being in a care environment - in a daycare, in a preschool - when you’re a bit older, like three or four, which is often when preschool starts, that actually is good for school readiness," Oster says.

The benefits of preschool expand beyond school readiness, according to SDSU Professor Mary Bowne, an expert in Early Childhood Education and Human Development.

“They’ve done longitudinal studies of preschool children who’ve been tracked until adulthood and into their adulthood and they’re showing children who were in quality childcare programs were 28 percent less likely to develop alcohol and drug problems or end up in jail and were 24 percent more likely to attend college, "Bowne says. "They have higher incomes in adulthood. They have better math and reading and writing skills and are less likely to become teen parents, marijuana users, cigarette smokers. This isn’t just one study. These are multiple studies that are being done to show the importance of those early learning years.”

South Dakota is often cited as leading the nation in its percentage of working mothers. Some estimates say up to 84 percent of South Dakota moms work both inside and outside the home.

That means a lot of South Dakota families are writing sizeable checks for preschool and hoping state lawmakers will catch up to the rest of the nation in their support of early childhood education.

But not everyone thinks preschool should be publicly funded.

Randell Beck is executive director of the Hope Coalition in Sioux Falls. It’s a collaboration of business leaders and educators that help underserved families afford quality preschool. More than 150 preschoolers are in Sioux Falls classrooms today through Hope Coalition partnerships. Beck says it’s time for business leaders to step up for kids in their communities.

“It is not government’s responsibility. I believe it is our responsibility," Beck explains. "I think there’s a temptation sometimes in our world today to look to government to fix everything. The fact is we have no current state support for preschool. There’s no upside, in my view, in wringing our hands about that.”

Beck says the Hope Coalition model could be copied by other communities, including rural communities. But SDSU Professor Mary Bowne says lack of state oversight also means standards for early learning don’t exist.

“The issue is, what do you constitute as quality?" Bowne says. "South Dakota has no requirements or regulations for preschools unless the preschool is used as a substitute for parental care. So someone can claim themselves to be a preschool, but ultimately, what’s taking place within that location?”

In an effort to help parents find a quality early learning classroom, the School Administrators of South Dakota have created a voluntary Preschool Levels of Excellence program. About 20 facilities have gone through the evaluation process, which is a third of the group’s overall outreach goal.

“We also want to remember that we’re not advocating for every child to go to preschool," says Kevin Nelson, educational consultant and former administrator. "We’re saying that if you do send your child to a preschool, we want them to have a quality experience. We also understand that there are many children who are at home with their parents and are getting a wonderful quality experience there too.”

It's important to note that some South Dakotans don’t think kids should be in preschool at all. Early childhood is a time for play, they argue. Early learning specialists point out a quality preschool environment centers around play and imagination, bolstered by professional teachers who understand early learning and child development.

Dr. Carolyn Kippes specializes in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Sanford Health.

“I think it’s in the last few decades that people have gotten a better understanding of what’s going on for kids learning," Dr. Kippes says."There’s research going back into the 50s and 60s where we were just starting to figure out that babies aren’t just fleshy little blobs that are cute and make messy diapers. They’re actually learning. They’re actually interacting with people and their environment. I think we’re just now grasping that and having to figure out how do we get everyone else on board, in realizing that we need to be paying attention to this.”

As an education story, preschool in South Dakota is pretty straightforward. As a political story, it’s more complex.

South Dakota Speaker of the House Steven Haugaard says research he’s studied, including a report from Health and Human Services, shows kids who don’t go to preschool end up catching up with their peers in elementary school. When it comes to who pays for PreK, Haugaard says responsibility lies with South Dakota families.

“It’s an opportunity for families to make a choice about how they want to educate their kids, if they want to stay home and do that or if they want to hire someone else to nurture their kids during the day while they’re at work. All that’s up to them. But to have some sort of a universal preschool, I think that’s an ill-fated idea.”

State Representative Erin Healey says the state should at least study publicly funded preschool through the formation of an Early Learning Advisory Council. Her legislative efforts have been blocked however, often because of fear they will lead to mandatory preschool with what some opponents have called a “socialist” agenda.

Representative Healy says that’s not the intent.

“I want to make it really clear that we want to make sure that parents are always given the option of providing that education at home because some parents can do that," Healy says. "We just know that our state, with 74 percent of working families, we know that people can’t afford to send their kids or don’t have the structure in their communities available to send their children to preschool. We need to make sure that is always an option for our state.”

Meanwhile, people like Jennifer Keintz are taking matters into their own hands, and, in her case, behind the wheel. Because of lack of services in her area, she’s driving her daughter 62 miles each way to a preschool in Aberdeen. That’s about 2,000 miles per month. Many of those miles will be logged during the South Dakota winter months.

“We’re able to provide this to our daughter both in terms of time an financial commitment to it as well," Keintz says. “I think very few people could probably put this kind of time into it, and then again, there is an additional financial commitment.”

Other parents are still struggling to figure out which early childhood education classrooms are worth the expense and which ones are glorified daycare.

Nationwide, states are funding preschool education to the tune of $7.4 billion, and as the research regarding the benefits of well-fundedclassrooms guided by qualified teachers mounts, that investment is rising. Washington D.C., for example, spends $15,748 per child on preschool education alone.

The gap between regions that have and regions that have not is growing.

Pre-Kindergarten In A Moment

Partnership Between Head Start and Jones County School District Offers Preschool in Small Town

By JACKIE HENDRY

The Head Start program in Murdo also provides breakfast and lunch for students.

The Head Start program serves pre-school kids and their families across the country. It’s often one of the only preschool options in rural areas. The goal? To help get kids from low-income households ready for school. However, in one central South Dakota town, a partnership between Head Start and the local school district is providing preschool for any child.

Murdo Head Start teacher Misti Chester and students examine a slug found on a window during outdoor playtime.

Murdo is a town of about 500 people. It’s here that the Jones County School District and the Oahe Head Start program have teamed up. Misti Chester has been the local Head Start teacher for nearly fifteen years. Her classroom is in a district building. And she says you’d need to drive at least 25 miles to find another Head Start class.

Chester says Head Start provides important services in rural areas.

“Within our town we have limited number of resources for daycares and so there really isn’t any other opportunities available at this time.”

The play-based curriculum helps kids develop social skills. When weather allows, the students play outside. In the winter months, they can play in the school gymnasium just next door.

Lorrie Esmay is the superintendent of the Jones County Schools. She also serves on the Oahe Head Start Board. She says playtime and other classroom activities--like story time or puzzles--help students learn to work together and regulate their emotions. Offering these lessons early on for children, can enhance what they learn at home and keep them on track once it’s time for kindergarten.

After lunch, students can pick a book to read while they wait for relatives to pick them up.

“Just all those things we just take for granted, that we just think kids just know how to do. Some of them just have to have it modeled to them and taught to them. So that’s why I think it’s so important to have early childhood education.”

There’s also plenty of early intervention for kids who might need some extra help. Teacher Misti Chester does assessments four times a year—looking at students’ motor, cognitive and social skills. She says partnering with the school district adds to what she can offer.

“We have the speech teacher, she comes over and does services with the ones that need some speech, and then the special ed teacher also comes over and helps with some of those that just need that little extra boost.”

That help can be extra one-on-one time during class, or resources Chester sends home for parents.

Head Start enrollment generally depends on parents’ income status. But there are exceptions. Jones County--like many counties in South Dakota--is considered medically underserved. That’s a federal designation for counties with too few primary care providers...high infant mortality rates...high poverty rates...or a large elderly population. Misti Chester explains that designation allows some flexibility in Head Start’s income guidelines.

Misti Chester plays games with the students while lunch is prepared. Students recite a rhyme to find a picture of a mouse behind one of the colored houses. Each student takes turns guessing.

“So we are allowed to have fifty percent of our kids under income and fifty percent of them over income. So that helps us to be able to allow for the opportunity to serve more.”

The partnership between Head Start and the local schools also means flexibility in class sizes. Superintendent Esmay says Head Start is limited to 20 students per class, but the school helps with any overflow.

“But you know, Miss Misti and I work pretty closely together to make sure that nobody is turned away. You know we might only have some kids be able to attend two days, but we want them here for two days. So nobody will ever be turned away.”

This year, 21 students are enrolled in Murdo’s Head Start preschool. Superintendent Esmay says she wants to be able to provide early education to as many families as they can.

“We, the school district, will just provide that early education as best we can until our funding is no longer there. But working with Head Start allows this to happen. Without Head Start we couldn’t have this.”

Esmay keeps tabs on state-wide conversations about preschool. But because Head Start is a federal program, she’s most concerned with national conversations about funding.

“It’s just a matter of getting the federal dollars down to the state level to go out to the local districts to help them. I don’t think you’d find anybody who’s gonna say early childhood education is not important. It’s just a matter of getting, I think, the federal dollars here.”

Teacher Misti Chester agrees. If anything, she wishes Head Start would expand it’s income guidelines to accept more students.

“You know, every year we hear, you know, they want to start cut funding for Head Start programs, and we just keeping praying they don’t, because for some of these rural areas it’s our only opportunities.”

For kids who think they’re just playing with friends and singing songs--preschool programs are really an opportunity to hit the ground running in kindergarten and beyond.

Partnership Between Head Start and Jones County School District Offers Preschool in Small Town

Preschool Parent Dyanis Conrad Popova

By LORI WALSH

Preschool Parent Dyanis Conrad Popova

In The Moment ... October 1, 2019

SDPB has been talking preschool education for more than a month now, looking into funding, standards of excellence, and accessibility. You can find all our coverage on our website at listen.sdpb.org.

Today we're visiting with parents like Dyanis Conrad Popova who have had to navigate preschool and early learning in South Dakota.

Lori Walsh:

Welcome back to In The Moment. I'm Lori Walsh. We've been talking preschool education In The Moment for more than a month now. Looking into funding, standards of excellence and accessibility. You can find all that coverage on our website at listen.sdpb.org. Today we talk with parents who have had to navigate preschool and early learning in this state, in their own families. We begin with Dyanis Conrad Popova. She is joining us from the SDPB studios in Vermilion. Dyanis, welcome. Thanks for being here.

Dyanis Conrad Popova:

Thanks for having me.

Lori Walsh:

Tell me a little bit about, you moved to the Vermilion area from somewhere else. Tell me what kind of change you noticed in what was available in preschool in one place versus what's available here.

Dyanis Conrad Popova:

Well, I lived on primarily on the East coast of for the few years and moved here about three years ago with a two year old who was just about that age and I did notice just variation of opinion. Not everybody saw preschool as important. Not every district had preschools. Some had free preschools, some had preschool that had to be paid for, and there was just a variety of conceptualizations of what preschool was and where the value was within having a preschool program.

Lori Walsh:

So did that surprise you from the places you'd been, that people were really talking about not only you know how to pay for something for example, but whether or not it had value at all?

Dyanis Conrad Popova:

Yes, I think the latter was more where I struggled in terms of understanding that there was that gap in understanding why students or why kids need to have that support. Our systems are very different than they were before. Twenty years ago, kindergarten was half day and kids took naps. Now kindergarten is a full day school and the expectations are different. So not so much rushing our kids through development, but giving them the support they need to be successful once they do enter schools.

Lori Walsh:

So here you are now with a family trying to figure out in this new environment, where you begin you start looking for options for your child?

Dyanis Conrad Popova:

Yeah. As I'm actually an educator, so I'm a professor in the school of education at USD, so I had at least a sense of where to ask, which I think some parents coming into the state might not. So I was able to ask around and navigate. I looked around and a lot of information I just wasn't able to get. So, I really even wasn't aware of a Headstart program until later on. Looking at the options, particularly in Vermilion, it's pretty much the public school system or St. Agnes Catholic School that have the systems outside of the Headstart program. We do have a private preschool program as well that's attached the university, but the numbers are small. Preschool classes can't be 30, 40 kids, they have to be small. So that really limits the options. I mean I think I was in one wait list for over a year.

Lori Walsh:

Really? The time's ticking when you have a preschooler and you're on a wait list for a year. It's not like being on a wait list for an apartment when you already have a nice apartment. So, it's a little bit different.

Dyanis Conrad Popova:

It is. I really felt that I was failing him and in giving him that opportunity. My son is an only child. So, in terms of being able to help foster his social and emotional growth and readiness to interact with multiple kids, once he did get into school, I wanted to give him that opportunity. So, my focus wasn't so much the academics because I do believe in learning by play at three, four or five years old, we're not heavily focused in academics. We're looking at social and emotional growth, soft skills like teaching kids empathy and how to compromise and how to solve problems and how to build self-confidence and be independent and develop those skills in preparation for being just good humans and part of the school system.

Dyanis Conrad Popova:

I really struggled with navigating that. My first year finding out about the preschool options, I just didn't have the money to afford it. I was a second year faculty and it just wasn't in my budget to pay for preschool and that made me feel like I was failing my son in some way.

Lori Walsh:

What did you hear from other parents?

Dyanis Conrad Popova:

The same level of frustration. Praise, like the preschool programs that we do have always got high praise. My son ended up going to Austin Elementary preschool program and both their teachers are exceptional and I'm very glad that he was able to get a spot in there. But they only really can hold 24 students per class, half in the morning and half in the afternoon. What about all the other kids who still deserve that same opportunity?

Lori Walsh:

Do you think, and this is something that as we've talked really off the air about preschool in the state and most of these are mothers that I have talked to. But some of the things that come up for mothers is what you alluded to, feeling like you failed, but then they're not trying to be competitive, but they're feeling like their child is being left out of something and it can foster some animosity towards people who can afford more than others, to people who make different decisions, to people who stay home with their children. It doesn't exactly create a warm fuzzy atmosphere among parents always either, especially in smaller communities.

Dyanis Conrad Popova:

Yes. When there's only a few slots and only a certain few get to have those slots it, it can cause I think some increasing challenges. Again, the focus isn't really school readiness as much it as building good humans and having them have that groundwork. So yeah, that definitely was a challenge. Most parents I spoke to felt the same way, felt that rush, not pushing their kids towards academics, but making sure they're prepared. Because when they get to kindergarten, the rules change. They're expected to be able to function in certain ways and to be able to have a basic understanding of certain things.

While kindergarten teachers are well trained to differentiate so that they can handle kids who can read and kids who can't read in the same classroom, there're kids who are not given that opportunity. While I see that not everyone feels that opportunity is necessary, there are a lot of kids out there who can benefit from that. I feel that not only enhances our communities, but also enhances our school systems K through 12 as students move forward into the system.

Lori Walsh:

Dyanis Popova, thank you so much for your insight today. We really appreciate your time.

Dyanis Conrad Popova:

Thank you very much.

Creative Learning

Preschool Parent Jennifer Keintz

By LORI WALSH

In The Moment ... October 1, 2019

SDPB has been discussing preschool education for more than a month. In The Moment has been looking into funding, standards of excellence, and accessibility. You can find all of our coverage on our website, listen.sdpb.org.

Jennifer Keintz is a preschool parent. She talks about navigating preschool and early learning.

Lori Walsh:

We continue this conversation. We're going to head to Aberdeen, to the Tom and Danielle Aman Foundation Studio at Northern State University to welcome another parent, Jennifer Keintz. Jennifer, welcome. Thanks for being here.

Jennifer Keintz:

Thanks for having me.

Lori Walsh:

We really appreciate you talking with us about this conversation. Tell us a little bit about where you live and sort of what services are like for early learning for you and your family.

Jennifer Keintz:

I live in Eden, which is in Northeast South Dakota, fewer than 100 people in our town. And we have a choice of a few different schools as far as elementary and high schools that are each about 25 to 30 minutes away, but we don't have preschool at all for three-year olds in the area that I'm aware of. And the four-year-old preschool is two half-days a week in the school in Webster where we're planning to send our daughter. So starting about five weeks ago, I began driving my daughter 62 miles each way to Aberdeen, to the Montessori School in Aberdeen, so she would have the opportunity to have a learning experience at a younger age than she would otherwise have.

Lori Walsh:

Do you find that as you talk to other parents, as you talk to administrators, that there is a gap between people who think it's important at all, to people who are talking about how it's important, we know it's important, how can we make it happen? Or are there a lot of people who are saying we just don't really think it's necessary? Where is the... What's the leap that needs to be made, do you think?

Jennifer Keintz:

Well my daughter is my only child, so I don't have as much contact with the people in the school system as maybe a parent with children in school, but some of the feedback that I get is that maybe preschool isn't as necessary as people have thought in other places. I lived, for a number of years, in other states where preschool is just a given and I didn't have children until later in life, but the people that I knew who were having kids, I think they recognized the importance. I think other states, I don't know if it's 43 states that have some sort of early childhood learning standard that South Dakota doesn't have and I think there's a lot of research out there that shows the value of starting this early and that those benefits last throughout life. And I just don't know if it's a matter of some people in the position of making these decisions aren't aware of it or if it's not recognizing the real importance of it and the real benefit.

Lori Walsh:

Tell me about that 62 mile drive. Tell me again how many days are you making that drive to take her to preschool.

Jennifer Keintz:

So the school has been great at making an accommodation for us in allowing us to come four days for four... a little over a half a day for four days. So, it's about 125 miles round trip every day for four days. So that's about 2,000 miles a month. We're only five weeks into it and, of course, we haven't had any snow yet, so the drive's been fine. Talk to me in January or February and see how things are going, but I really don't mind the drive. My daughter is great at entertaining herself in the car. She's good in the car. She's at an age where it works for her. When she was younger, it would not have worked, but right now the drive is going fine.

Lori Walsh:

Right.

Jennifer Keintz:

We'll see also, she's potentially looking at... we could potentially be doing this for two or three years.

Lori Walsh:

Right.

Jennifer Keintz:

And I don't know if... I don't want to have to drive that far, but I'm willing to do that in order to provide her with this experience. Like your previous guest, the things that she was talking about the value, it's not in the academics, but in that social and emotional learning that I personally have not found is the same in a, for example, a day care setting that it is in a specific learning setting with people who are experts in early childhood development.

Lori Walsh:

Right. So you're five weeks in and you're making an investment right now into your child right now, your daughter right now, but also you're making that investment for forever, for her future. What do you want to say to the people in South Dakota who are making some of those decisions about whether or not to make that investment as a state and to all the children who are your daughters' age in need of early learning?

Jennifer Keintz:

Well, and I do think that's a very important point. We're able to provide this to our daughter both in terms of time and financial resources, to do this for her. I think very few people could probably put this kind of time into it. And then again, there's an additional financial commitment to it as well and I think that this investment pays off if our state were willing to make this investment in all children from three years... three and four-year olds before they go to school. I think we'll see the benefits of that years and years down the road. And so, a free or very low cost preschool option closer to home, I think would be so beneficial for all children.

Lori Walsh:

And you said something there I want to circle back on because you talk about your own personal resources. And as I talked to Dyanis just a moment ago, one of the things I'm noticing as I talk to parents is this, especially mothers, because that's who I've mostly been in conversation with, admittedly so. The wait that parents feel to make sure that their child is getting the right resources and then the sort of, "Well it's okay for me because I have resources." This is a huge cost to you. Do you kind of hear what I'm getting at here, where it becomes a, "Well she had resources and I don't," or, "She doesn't have resources, I do." It almost puts women against each other as they talk about what they're trying to do for their kids versus this collective understanding that preschool is important. That has a toll as well.

Jennifer Keintz:

Right and it really shouldn't have to be that way. I think that all of us having that opportunity, it would be well worth the investment and it's just not practical, even talking beyond the investment. I really don't think it's practical for most people to do something like this.

Lori Walsh:

No. What would you like to see changed? Do you have specific ideas of what should happen next?

Jennifer Keintz:

Well, I think there are a lot of states that are doing this very successfully that South Dakota could look to for some suggestions and advice on how to do this. I don't see why treatment of three and four-year olds would be any different here, in South Dakota, versus Minnesota for example, where they have a pretty well established early childhood program. I'm sure there are other states, that's the one I'm most familiar with. But we don't have to reinvent the wheel, other places are doing great things and we can do the same.

Lori Walsh:

All right. Well stay safe this winter.

Jennifer Keintz:

Thanks.

Lori Walsh:

And enjoy the car time with your daughter as well. So have you noticed in five weeks that she's enjoying the program and have you noticed some changes that you think are encouraging and worth making the trip?

Jennifer Keintz:

Some of the things that she talks about, it's really interesting. I know that she's being exposed to a lot of new and different things. She had a Japanese cultural lesson in origami last week. I mean, those are the kind of things that she would never have had the chance to have at home. So yeah, I'm already seeing a lot of benefits.

Lori Walsh:

Jennifer, thank you so much for being here with us. We appreciate your time.

Jennifer Keintz:

Thank you.

Lori Walsh:

Lakota Immersion Preschool

Thunder Valley CDC

Preschool Levels Of Excellence

By LORI WALSH & JOSH HAIAR

Rob Monson, Eric Knight & Kevin Nelson

In The Moment ... September 24, 2019

South Dakota does not publicly fund preschool education, but there are efforts to ensure excellence in early learning throughout the state.

Today, we talk about the Preschool Levels of Excellence.

Rob Monson is the executive director of School Administrators of South Dakota, Eric Knight is the Superintendent of Centerville School District, and Kevin Nelson is an education consultant and former Principal at Beresford Elementary.

Lori Walsh:

Welcome to In the Moment. I'm Lori Walsh. South Dakota does not publicly fund preschool education, but there are efforts to ensure excellence in early learning throughout the state. South Dakota Public Broadcasting continues our look at pre-K in South Dakota and today we talk about the preschool levels of excellence. Rob Monson is with us. He's Executive Director of School Administrators of South Dakota. Welcome, Rob.

Rob Monson:

Thank you, Lori.

Lori Walsh:

Also joining us, Eric Knight, Superintendent of the Centerville School District. Eric, thanks for being here.

Eric Knight:

Thanks for having us.

Lori Walsh:

And Kevin Nelson, he's an education consultant and the former Principal at Beresford Elementary Public School. Kevin, thanks for being here as well.

Kevin Nelson:

Good morning. Thank you.

Lori Walsh:

Rob, let's start with you and tell us a little bit about the school administrators of South Dakota for an overview, if you would.

Rob Monson:

Sure. Our organization is made up of what we call parent groups throughout the state, and that is groups of administrators. So, we have superintendents, elementary principals, high school principals, business managers, curriculum directors, and special ed directors belong to our nonprofit organization. And our goals are to promote quality education in South Dakota. So organization tries to provide professional development opportunities to our members, represent them at all sorts of state meetings, different things happening across the state. And then keeping an eye on legislation. I work as their lobbyist for all the public and a few nonprofit or I should say private schools in the state watching legislation go through.

So statewide we have with retirees, close to 900 members and we're proud of the fact that we do represent all 149 public school districts with membership coming out of each of those. And we look at all sorts of things in education. And one of the things we took on a few years ago, which will segue into where we're going is the superintendents were having their statewide meeting and one of them said, "We really need to get our feet into preschool education. We really need to move the needle on preschool education in the state." So, at that point we decided we weren't going to ask permission from the state or anyone else. We were going to move forward with what we believed about preschool education. And so, we put together an actual standing committee and organization, which elevates everything to a little bit higher level that we're more serious about this. We're going to put people from all of our parent groups on there and we're going to meet at least once a year and move preschool education forward the way we believe it should be.

So that's where these two other gentleman in the room come into play with me. There's an old saying that if you're the smartest guy in the room, you've built the wrong room. So I'm proud to say that having these two onboard who have their feet in the trenches yet in the schools and doing the work. Kevin recently retired but was a very good advocate for preschool. These gentlemen led the committee at one point in time and Eric now leads the committee and I'm happy to have them speaking on behalf of early childhood education and helping us move this committee and all of our work forward.

Lori Walsh:

I want to talk first about, you mentioned, we really need to move the needle, we need to move things to a higher level. Let's talk about why. So, based on what you know, and Kevin, maybe you're a good person to start with or bounce around if you want to jump in, what do we know about the importance of this early learning? Why is it important to get involved in it at all?

Kevin Nelson:

There's a ton of research out there that shows the impact that preschool education has going all the way back to the Perry report, to the high scope's initiative that took place back in the 1960s and they took hundreds of preschool age still children and put them into two separate groups. Some had high quality preschool, the other half didn't. So it was a controlled group and they followed them 40 years out. And what happened and because of that, everything from the group that had preschool had a much higher graduation rate, had better jobs. I mean, there was all of those types of things.

And these are things that as educators, we've always known, we've always known that children who come prepared to school, not necessarily already reading all of those types of things, but have a good basket full of activities there. I use the analogy; this is mine and only mine. But I said, every good farmer out there knows that when you plant a corn crop, you take care of it on the early end. If you neglect it on the early on and only are worried about it after the 4th of July, when it's knee high or above, there's going to be problems. And I think that's exactly the way we look at it. And I think collectively we've looked at early childhood education as the key to that. Brain research, all the other things indicate that our early intervention into that, and again, we're going to talk about what that means, intervention. But if you're going to have a preschool, quality preschool, those aspects of it have to be there for children really to grow and do the good things that they want and they're ready to hit school.

Lori Walsh:

So as we will look at some of the data and some of the research, my big question here is, is that research building, are we learning more pretty much every year? Some of the research we've seen might be of a program that was inadequate in a certain location, and that has to do largely with the fact that there isn't a consolidated universal one size fits all preschool classroom in the country. Right? Do I understand that?

Eric Knight:

Yeah. I would say that from my standpoint, I got onto this preschool level of excellence when Rob and some others had reached out. I had, as an elementary principal at the time, had an inn in our district preschool and saw the effects that that had, but also had kids that were going to preschool outside of our district and saw different outcomes and things that they were fighting through as well. And then now as a superintendent and having a preschool within our district, again, seeing the effects of that and how we can streamline their growth. The biggest thing for me or take away from me in terms of the aspect of variance was the lack of governance that we had amongst the state and what you could classify a preschool S. I didn't know that going into this deal, and I've learned a lot about it and so that was a scary part as an educator for me who could have a preschool, why they could have a preschool be making money off of that with the lack of guidance or governance over them.

Lori Walsh:

You can call it a preschool. And I think a lot of parents are with you in the sense that as parents have sort of heard these stories throughout the month that have uncovered some of these things, but parents have already known, which is there isn't a guiding principle. So Rob, let's go back to you and talk about how do you begin? How do you start measuring things?

Rob Monson:

Well, we looked at it from a national perspective first and then sort of sifted that down to our state. We knew when we started looking at what are the bare minimums of preschool should have, what is that bar they should have to sort of clear to be identified as a preschool. The state of South Dakota does no oversight of any of them. They do with childcare centers. So we want to make sure we make a delineation there. There's places who take care of kids and watch them and then there are actual preschools. So there is oversight on those early learning daycare centers, there is not on preschools. So when we started to look at what bar do they need to cross to be identified as a preschool, because.

As we joke, Kevin and I joke a lot, a store could open up down the road here and hang a shingle out Ernie's bar/Preschool and there's no one coming in and saying, "This is wrong. You shouldn't be doing this." Right now, there's no one state oversight, etc, looking at this. So we thought let's come up with a criteria that would say if you're going to be a preschool and you want to be recognized and identified as a levels of excellence preschool through our organization, you need to do this list of things. And Kevin, I'll kick it over to you and let you kind of introduce what we said they should be doing.

Lori Walsh:

What makes a good preschool.

Kevin Nelson:

Well, we didn't reinvent the wheel. There's obviously national standards and indicators out there. But we took a look at things that we thought were the most important and those included relationships. And those relationships are, for example, between a teacher and students, between teachers and parents, all of those types of things. The teaching methods that they're using, are those teaching methods developmentally appropriate for three and four year olds. We're concerned about the health and the standards within a setting. How families are handled, the physical environment in there, the curriculum assessment, who is the teacher and what are their credentials and so on, community relationships. How does the preschool work not only with the K-12 building or K-12 school, but also in other entities? And then what's the leadership and management of the site.

These are basic building blocks we believe of any good institution of education, but it applies very much so in this case with a preschool.

Lori Walsh:

It doesn't seem like a particularly revolutionary thing to be asking what is the environment like? Who are the teachers, what kind of relationships? These are some pretty foundational building blocks that you're beginning with.

Kevin Nelson:

Absolutely, absolutely. And the thing is, we're very well aware that a preschool, for example, in a metro area that is funded well where the instructors may have be, have advanced degrees, are going to be light years away from some of our rural areas where a preschool has no connection whatsoever to the school. It's privately run, it's run out of there. We want to cover all of those areas. But we do believe that there's a basic baseline of what should be there.

And part of this is that in the state of South Dakota a number of years ago, we put together the South Dakota Early Learning Guidelines, which allows us to look at growth and development of children. It looks at early literacy skills, early math skills and so on and so forth. And how you teach those. And we still believe very strongly that preschool is taught through play. It's taught through role modeling. It's done through discovery. We're not talking worksheets, we're not straight lines. Preschool isn't high school math. We believe that those things are there. And so the levels of excellence really is pushing all of that.

Lori Walsh:

So how do preschoolers and communities get involved in it? What's their intersection with the levels of excellence program?

Eric Knight:

Yeah, so if you go to sasd.org and at that website, there's going to be a Preschool Levels of Excellence tab along the top. Click that tab. It'll ask you, actually has our tool out there. You can review before actually submitting or saying you're interested. As moving the needle, we wanted it to be a deal where, the preschool in Centerville could take it and use it as a growth opportunity for themselves even if they didn't feel comfortable having an outside person come in and evaluate them. And so we thought that was important. But they can go out there and they can log in and select the tool and it'll notify Rob that the local preschool is interested and we'll get them hooked up on how to go through the evaluation process.

Lori Walsh:

And then someone comes to the location itself? Walk us through it a little further after that initial contact.

Rob Monson:

Correct. So it does not have to be a preschool in a school. It could be in a Lutheran basement or someone's home. As Eric said, they go on and they initiate the process. And we moved to an online tool a couple of years ago, which really made it simple for whoever wants to do this. So they simply log in, they go through the process, do their self evaluation, and then as Eric said, it gets submitted to me and then I search out one of our members somewhere in that area. We try to find someone located close to them.

So we'll use Centerville as an example. When Eric's preschool went through it, he had been trained in the levels of excellence to do the administrator side. So I shoot him an email and I say, Eric, we've got a preschool in your area. Submit, would you be the administrator to go in and do the other side of it?

So then he goes in and uses the exact same tool and looks at it through his eyes and administrators are trained to do all sorts of observation and evaluation. So it's not a big deal for them to go in and do this. They know a lot is happening before they go in and then they do their observation and they submit it as well. So now we have two documents that are the exact same documents and through the miracles of technology and software, those two documents get kind of melded together and we can see instantly where any discrepancies are.

So if the preschool teacher or the person that runs a preschool picked that they were in the proficient and Eric comes in and sees no, you were higher than that, they will come to an agreement on which one is the final submission.

Eric Knight:

Those discrepancies are probably the largest girls for both preschools that I've been a part of as a direct administrator for. The conversations in terms of moving that needle and growing, those discrepancies opened up wonderful conversations of, Hey, we need to grow here or you're doing a really good job here. Some additional resources and strategies.

Lori Walsh:

So give me an example of something that you might need to grow on in a conversation then a fairly easy fix in some ways because some of them aren't that complicated to fix once you [crosstalk 00:14:06].

Eric Knight:

Yeah. One of ours was that curriculum item where they didn't think that they were addressing some of the curricular needs of the students and we talked about that, it was a research based curriculum. In comparison to some other places, they were doing really, really good things and using that curriculum along with pulling in some of their own strategies and ideas and they thought they were kind of just, well, I'm going through it and getting by. And so that's just one example, but it was a really good conversation piece.

Kevin Nelson:

Another real good example of that and because I think we probably have parents listening on this, but it was preschool thinking that they were communicating well with parents and we were looking at it and saying, "You really weren't communicating what you're teaching, why you're teaching it," and so on. And so that became a discrepancy in our situation.

Lori Walsh:

How do people do that, Kevin? Because it is play-based and we're always in this line where we think the kids' parents honestly want their kids to be evaluated on how well they play, but yet there is a communication. So talk a little bit more about communication and what sort of things are useful as a preschool communicates with the parents?

Kevin Nelson:

Well, I would say one of the very first things that preschool should be play, exploration, hands on learning. It should be about social interaction and sensory activities and things like that. And what we got to make sure they understand is that it's not necessarily teacher directed lessons and paper and pencil tasks and assessments and rote memorization. And so the communication about what the goals are here and what's developmentally appropriate, that's the term we keep talking about over and over again is that what we're emphasizing here is what should be developmentally appropriate. How we're teaching three and four year olds is going to be significantly different than what we teach seven year olds or 17 year olds. And I think that those things are all going to be a part of that communication. And that's on a daily basis. That's newsletters that come home and that's open discussion between instructors and parents for example. It's that type of environment that a quality preschool like any school is going to have.

Lori Walsh:

That really helps parents at home and figure out just how to be a stronger family too.

Kevin Nelson:

Absolutely.

Lori Walsh:

When they understand that brain development in a way that they don't necessarily have time to go-

Kevin Nelson:

Right.

Lori Walsh:

And read every book on child development.

Kevin Nelson:

And what's really amazing with the preschool levels of excellence is that any parent can go to the website, they can click on it and they can look at this whole model at every indicator on there and there's two things here. They can take a look at the preschool that they're sending their children to and make any decision on whether or not they think that their child's getting a quality education, but we also want to remember that we're not advocating for every child to go to preschool. We're saying that if you do send your child to a preschool, we want them to have a quality experience. We also understand that there are many children who are at home with their parents and are getting a wonderful quality experience there too and this will help them also. This means that any parent could take a look at it and say, "If I'm working every day, I'm a stay at home mom and or dad and I'm staying home and I'm working with my children on early literacy skills, is that of quality?" We're here to help you with that too, so.

Lori Walsh:

Tell me about the different levels, Rob.

Rob Monson:

Yes, I wanted to go back and kind of close that out. Once we have those two documents brought together, the final one gets submitted by the administrator who did that observation. Comes into our office and again through the miracle of technology, the software does all the scoring for us. So it's not on Eric shoulders, it's not on Kevin shoulders or my shoulders. Software spits out the level by basing all the criteria that we put in. I had a time weighted different things and it comes out with a level of excellence based on a number.

And so once we have that two things happen, we send a certificate to the preschool that went through the process. And then if they choose, we also host their name on our website. And right now we're at 20 plus sites that have gone through the process. Our goal in 2021 is to get 60% of the school districts or 60% of our members to have gone through the process. So that's what we're striving for right now.

Lori Walsh:

So out of 149 public school districts, you have 60?

Rob Monson:

Our goal is to get to 60.

Lori Walsh:

Our goal is to get to 60.

Rob Monson:

Yup.

Lori Walsh:

Say again how many you had.

Rob Monson:

We have 20 right now that have gone through the process, so we're about a third of the way there of where we would really like to be.

Lori Walsh:

All right. And different levels then?

Rob Monson:

Different levels. Kevin, do you have them up there? The highest level is exemplary and that's certainly what we'd like to have everyone trying to achieve to. Proficient, distinguished and exemplary are the three levels.

Lori Walsh:

Is it fee-based at all? Where's the funding from?

Rob Monson:

No. There's absolutely no cost to this. This is something our organization believes in and as far as the process, there really is no cost to it that people can go on and do it on their own.

And one thing I would like to mention is one of our goals really when we started this was the conversations that will be held. So if you don't have a preschool in the Centerville school district and it's being housed out in a church basement, they go through levels of excellence. They might be short on providing CPR training. Well that's a conversation eric can say, "You know what? Next week we're having an early release. We'd love to have your people come in and sit through that CPR with us." And the next step down the road is "We're not qualified to teach reading or we don't understand this teaching you're talking about." "Super, we're having an early release next week again, come on in and let's have that conversation."

So it's really helping everyone by us opening these conversations and having these dialogues.

Lori Walsh:

How are you getting the word out about this too, and tell me some of the feedback you've been getting from the schools themselves?

Rob Monson:

Well, we've done a number of different trainings at the State Elementary Principals Conferences. Kevin has gone out to a number of the area, kind of the local principal meetings. We've had some newspaper coverage, we've had a little bit of television coverage, but really it's word of mouth. We try and get it out to our members who are in touch with people in their communities and just really trying to get as much awareness as we can in getting people to at least take a look at it. And I think back to Kevin's comment about how parents could look at this. I came from a home where mom got to stay home and we had someone there doing these things with us. Society has changed immensely and those are few and far between now. And so we're hoping that anyone who can look at this tool and use anything that's in here, it's going to benefit all of these young kiddos.

Lori Walsh:

Well, and for parents, Kevin, there's a lot of conflicting information as people try to market to you with what is good for you, for your children from the latest app to whatever's going to help them get a headstart on reading. So having that research based information as a parent... Is there any kind of intervention or a screening component to any of this where kids are being identified if they have early learning problems? Is that part of this at all or is this mostly facility-based?

Kevin Nelson:

Yeah, and I think that one of the first things you would need to understand about that is that preschool, there's actually in a lot of districts, there's already two funded preschool components and that would be Head Start, for example. And then also many districts have a special needs preschool. So you have a child who is not yet in kindergarten who is on an IEP and so on. And so some of those things are there.

Then after that, in the Centervilles of the world, for example, they are funding preschool through their district and some others are, but most places are not. And they're not doing that in that setting. So you're all over the board on what preschool looks like. What we're looking here for is a common denominator that says at a minimum, here are the standards that we have. This is what we need to have in place. That's where that's at. Anything beyond that is going to be local practices. For example, if they're coming in and they do a prescreening on things, then they have a prescreening. Not every preschool is going to do that. We're not into that part of it. What we're into instead is those areas, like we said, relationships and teaching practices and curriculum.

Lori Walsh:

Rob, final thoughts on, you mentioned you work watching the state legislature in peer. Well, what are your thoughts on the next session in the preschool conversation?

Rob Monson:

Well, there's been a couple of attempts over the last three or four years to just try and get a commission in place or a counsel that can kind of oversee what's happening with preschool and have the ability to go out and apply for some grants and do those kinds of things. And twice we have seen that defeated. I think this year they're going to sort of take a step back. The people who have been behind pushing some of this, kind of take a step back, build some coalitions, see where we're at, and then plan next steps. So I really don't see much happening this session in early childhood.

Lori Walsh:

Rob Monson is Executive Director of School Administrators of South Dakota. Eric Knight, Superintendent of Centerville School District. Kevin Nelson, an education consultant, and the former Principal at Beresford Elementary Public School. Gentlemen, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

Kevin Nelson:

Thank you.

Rob Monson:

Thank you.

Eric Knight:

Thank you.

Lori Walsh:

The Early Learning Rapid City Initiative

Stephanie Rissler visits with Jessica Gromer of the John T. Vucuervich Foundation about a project they and many others across the state are part of that focuses on the future of early learning in South Dakota.

Jessica Gromer:

We are calling this the Early Learner Rapid City under the umbrella of Early Learner South Dakota. It really started when there was this up-swell of conversations surrounding early learning in our community. One of our jobs or my job at the foundation is to get a handle and an understanding on what organizations are doing in our community, what is important to them. So I reached out to those kind of the major players that were talking about early learners and that became the mayor's task force on this coming from the National League of Cities, United Ways, Black Hills Reads Initiative, South Dakota Association for the Education of Young Children, and then of course ourselves. So through conversations we decided you this is ... There's enough people that really feel this is very important that we need to move forward but we need to do it in a way that is community driven grassroots efforts to make sure that we incorporate all of the voices when it comes to early learners.

You typically think of early learning as that preschool classroom and we know more and more that is not the only way that young children learn. They learn in their homes, they learn from their grandparents, they learn in many different environments, and a lot of times that is the parents' choice and we need to respect that. But that also needs to ... We also need to provide resources and the opportunities for them to do that. So through this efforts, we understand it's going to be long term. I've also often coined these long term community-wide efforts as we need to go slow to move fast, that we have to be very deliberate and inclusive.

Stephanie Rissler:

So when we talk about the initiative, I know part of the goal is to also change the narrative and the way and you shared with me how sometimes that might even be the vocabulary that's used. When we talk about early learning, sometimes people often think of preschool, which that could mean different things for different people. Talk to me about some of the changes that you're hoping to push in terms of the vocabulary and the narrative for this.

Jessica Gromer:

Right. I kind of alluded to that, that it's not just that traditional preschool classroom and so early childhood education is often associated directly to that classroom. By using the language early learner, it really encompasses all those environments. So that is really one of the first pieces that we need to do is to help anyone who's interested in early learning in different environments know that we're all on the same page, that we want to make sure these resources are available for not only the classroom setting but parents that choose to stay at home and foster families just so that it's all inclusive.

Stephanie Rissler:

So I know we're talking about a statewide issue. You've referenced a lot of the resources that are available in communities already and how we tap into those resources. You also mentioned it being part of what's going on in Rapid City. Do we see other communities taking part perhaps, Sioux Falls specifically for those in that area, maybe Spearfish, some of our other communities across the state.

Jessica Gromer:

Yes. This is definitely a statewide issue and as I mentioned earlier, Early Learning Rapid City is under the umbrella of Early Learner South Dakota. We do envision this as becoming a community driven effort, grassroots effort that with the intention that we will roll in more and more communities. So it will be more of the community level versus putting the responsibility on let's say state legislators. So making the awareness start within the communities.

Stephanie Rissler:

So when you look to the future of early learning in South Dakota as a whole, what is the foundation hoping that will look like?

Jessica Gromer:

I see it happening in three different waves over a long period of time. But number one, if we can change that narrative as we were talking about earlier, that it's an early learner in all environments and then have that community wide awareness on what is that return on investment when we do do that with children at a young age. Then the third piece is having that the different sectors of the community actually invest in early learning, and I don't mean investing in merely financial terms, but it's their times, their talents. There are other resources that they can have to support early learners.

Stephanie Rissler:

Is there anything that we missed in terms of the foundation's involvement with early learning in general or the initiatives that we've not touched on?

Jessica Gromer:

Just to hang in there, be patient, and to reach out and learn. If you're interested in helping support early learning, reach out and we will see how that looks for a business and organization and individual to help support this effort.

Stephanie Rissler:

All right. Very good. Jessica Gromer, program officer with the John T. Vucurevich Foundation. Thank you for taking the time to visit with us and share some of this information.

Jessica Gromer:

You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

"Research Doesn't Lie": Early Childhood Development Specialists Discuss Preschool

By JACKIE HENDRY

SDSU Professor Mary Bowne specializes in early childhood learning and development. She says preschool is meant to help children develop emotional and academic skills. But she says the best early learning environments are based on play.

“What research has shown time and time again that children need to play. And this play isn’t with technological devices. It’s with human contact and real materials in hand.”

Bowne says both planned and un-planned classroom play can help children develop their ability to express themselves and think logically.

That foundational learning can start much earlier than many people think. Dr. Carolyn Kippes is a board-certified pediatrician specializing in child development at Sanford Children’s Hospital. She says over the past few decades research findings demonstrate children’s learning processes begin even as newborns.

“That brain development and that brain learning happens so early. And I think we’re just now grasping that, and now having to figure out how do we get everyone else on board? And realizing that we need to be paying attention to this.”

But statewide resources vary, and South Dakota does not offer state-funded pre-k. Legislative opponents to an early learning advisory council like House Speaker Steven Haugaard say there are already plenty of resources for parents who want their children in preschool, like church-run centers or other coalitions. But SDSU Professor Mary Bowne says there can be a wide variation in quality between programs.

“South Dakota has no requirements or regulations for preschools unless the preschool’s used as a substitute for parental care. So someone can claim themselves to be a preschool, but ultimately what’s taking place in that location?”

Bowne says research doesn’t lie, and the state could benefit from things like an early learning advisory council to get a broader picture of preschool availability and quality in the state.

Speaker Haugaard's Perspective On Pre K

By LORI WALSH

House Speaker Steve Haugaard

In The Moment .. September 17, 2019

When House Bill 1175 died in the last legislative session in Pierre, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader followed with a harshly worded editorial. HB 1175 would have created an Early Learning Advisory Council.

Quoting the Argus Leader editorial piece, "Too often, our state sacrifices enormous potential long-term returns at the altar of miserliness masquerading as 'fiscal responsibility.' We make decisions on the exclusive basis of firmly held beliefs rather than facts, figures and precedence." Representative Erin Healy was the primary sponsor of HB 1175. House Speaker Steve Haugaard spoke against the bill. As we continue our month-long coverage of Pre-K in South Dakota, Speaker Haugaard joins us to share another side in the Pre-K discussion - and to visit about where he sees the conversation going in the future, which could include the 2020 session in Pierre.

Lori Walsh:

Welcome back to In the Moment. I'm Lori Walsh. This month, SDPB is taking an in-depth look at early learning in South Dakota and preschool education. Yesterday, we welcomed South Dakota state representative Erin Healy who talked about how she was the primary sponsor of a House Bill 1175, which would have created an early learning advisory council in the state. That bill was defeated. I believe that was defeated nine to two during that legislative session.

Today, we welcome House Speaker Steve Haugaard. He spoke out against the bill at that time, and he's joining us here in the Kirby Family Studio to talk about preschool learning in the state, and the conversation going forward, which could include the 2020 session in Pierre. Speaker Haugaard, thanks for being here. Appreciate your time.

Steven Haugaard:

Thank you Lori very much for allowing me to be here today and I sure look forward to visiting with you.

Lori Walsh:

So I think you've probably learned in the last session, as did we, that when you talk about educating people's children, we all know this, it's passionate. People are, are very engaged in the conversation. They're afraid of things that they don't understand. They're excited and passionate about getting things that they believe are important for their kids. What are some of the things that you really heard, and I asked Erin Healy this yesterday, from your personal and your district constituents and voters? What were some of the things they were saying about preschool education in their personal lives?

Steven Haugaard:

Well, it wasn't so much preschool education as it's been discussions I've had with teachers as I go door to door campaigning each election cycle. I run across quite a few teachers in my district who are either retired or have been teaching for a long time, and their greatest frustration oftentimes is that they never get a chance to fully complete a curriculum series. And so the changes that go on throughout elementary and in high school, those are very frustrating for the teachers. When it comes to the pre-K side of things, that's oftentimes more of an emotional discussion than it is a factual discussion. It's interesting to take a look at the actual studies that have been done. I know the one that's oftentimes relied on the most is called the Perry Preschool Project or preschool study from, I think it was 1962, and that study only included a handful of students.

It was like 100 or 150 students and it's oftentimes referred to as a the real key to the benefit of preschool, but in fact that was a whole different time and place, when that took place. That was Ypsilanti, Michigan and it was 1962. It was about the era when I was in school and starting school. And so, what you find is that it's really not a fair comparison. Families were much more traditional in the sense that there was at one parent in the home. Now oftentimes both parents are working and in fact that seems to be a finding, it was in a more recent study in Canada where they had a broad spectrum of preschool required for students. I think it started in late '90s and what they found as a result of that study was that it in fact had pushed into negative results.

What they found was there was a large impact on privately funded childcare arrangements and they almost disappeared. Quebec, at the time, as a result of this, had the highest rate of subsidized childcare in Canada at 58% and that was in 2011. They also found the program caused a 14.5% increase in the share of mothers of young children working outside the home. So, there were a lot of issues there. They also looked at some studies going forward from that point and found that it had significantly negative results that were demonstrable with the information that they had. So, you know, that's, that's a concern. I think that ultimately the key to a well-grounded child is a family that's cohesive and supportive and encouraging. And it doesn't matter what your economic level is, you don't have to categorize people based on that or based on ethnic background or anything else. It's just do they have a good solid family and is that family supportive of learning and nurturing?

Lori Walsh:

And so if we're in a state where there are so many working families, where both parents are working outside the home, where you have single parent families, what sort of choices ... What I want to know first is what is the state doing now for early learning? Because it's not nothing. What are we doing now? And for the parents who are working and are not staying home with their kids or who want, even if they are staying home with their kids, want a preschool experience, that's coming out of their pockets, out of their paychecks.

Steven Haugaard:

Yeah. And I think that's where it should be. It's an opportunity for families to make a choice about how they want to educate their kids. If they want to stay home and do that or if they want to hire someone else to nurture their kids during the day while they're at work, all that's up to them. But to have some sort of a universal preschool I think is an ill-fated idea. It seems that the research supports that. In fact, even a health and human services study that was conducted around 2014 to 2015 found essentially that. It was funding of the programs from the late '90s into the early 2000s and as Congress authorized the funding for some of those programs, they said we should at least study some of the research. Find if there is information that can tell us if this is working or not.

So even though they allocated the money, they thankfully did ask for a study. What that study found was that, and this was through health and human services themselves, it wasn't some group critiquing the programs. It was health and human services itself. They essentially found the advantages were kind of washed out by the end of grade one. And so those kids that had not been in preschool compared to those that did attend preschool, there wasn't any demonstrable difference by the end of grade one. Even those studies that kind of stretch, they take a look all the way to grade three and they find there's really no evidence of benefit by grade three. So what you end up looking at, is it a daycare experience? Is it a benefit to the child so that they can be, quote unquote, ready to learn?

All those things sound great, but you have to also then reflect back what is the role of education. In South Dakota, our constitution sets forth what the purpose of education was. And it's interesting to read that. It's article eight, section one and this is a paraphrase, but it basically says the, the stability of a Republican form of government. And when they say Republican, they mean a representative constitutional Republic. The stability of Republican form of government, depending upon the morality and intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature to establish a uniform and standard system of education open to the public.

That was the reason for education. It wasn't workforce development. It wasn't daycare. It wasn't a taking over the role of the family. It was to ensure that there's a moral and intelligent people that can digest the information that's presented to them in the public forum and then make a wise decision about how they want to proceed as far as electing their representatives for doing their job in the legislature and overseeing the governmental affairs. So that's the reason for education.

Lori Walsh:

We're reaching out to a lot of parents for this month-long look at preschool about efforts for early learning and some of the things we're hearing from parents who are calling us or emailing us now are, I moved from another community where there were so many choices for me as a working mother to find great options for my kids. I moved here and it just doesn't exist. We've heard from a mother who's driving, you know, 60 miles per day. I'm not sure if she's doing this every day, but to get her child to an appropriate program. Education has changed a lot from those early days of the constitution. And kindergarten has changed. Readiness has changed. What parents believe good education has changed. What we know about early learning and human brain development has changed so quickly. Do you feel that South Dakota is changing with it and keeping pace with what we now know, not just about the outcomes of a preschool program, but about early learning itself?

Steven Haugaard:

Well, I think South Dakota is no different than any other state as far as funding of programs. Everyone has to be prudent about how they spend resources and before we start spending resources, as I mentioned this study in Quebec, they decided it's obviously a good idea, let's just do it. Let's require it and fund it. What they ended up doing is they ended up essentially driving private preschools out of business and changing the overall landscape as far as working families. I think we want to be cognizant of that.

When I've attended some legislative conferences, I've heard kind of a drum beat of how important it is for the government to be involved in the life of the child in the first 1000 days of their life. I've heard this multiple times at conferences and these are oftentimes from think tanks or from advisors that I wouldn't share their political perspective. When they talk about the importance of this, they try to show based on, really based on this 1962 study in Michigan. They tried to show the financial benefit to the state to get these kids involved in the first 1000 days in some sort of a government program and that is not the role of the government.

The role of the government is to, as I said, with our constitutional statement, to ensure that people are moral and intelligent so that they can engage in the public forum and ensure that they have appropriate representation. It isn't to take over the role of the parents. The role of the parent is so vital that there's every reason for us to encourage that and to encourage, if people want to use a preschool, encourage private preschools. Give them some sort of incentives or tax breaks or whatever it might be.

Maybe to encourage, even at our vocational schools, some sort of an early childhood learning environment where people can go into the private sector and engage in this and do it in such a way that it's not cost prohibitive. But for the state to say that we're going to launch into this, I think it's just the ill-fated and especially when you look at the studies and the reports. Especially from essentially a neutral source. The health and human services study, the federal government trying to figure out if there was a benefit to it and they come up basically saying, no, there's no real benefit. We did get a lot of kids into a dental programs and publicly funded healthcare programs. So that was the outcome.

Lori Walsh:

When we talk about the role and the responsibility of the family, and I mentioned it during the introduction or when we first started our conversation about how passionate people can get. I'm wondering if you can hear a working parent now listening to this and saying, "Are you implying, Speaker Haugaard, that by taking my kid to preschool, I'm outsourcing my parenting? I am somehow-" Talk a little bit about that because I think people get really engaged in this conversation when we start talking about responsibilities of parents and the role of the family.

Steven Haugaard:

Well that kind of blends into those studies that were observed all the way from that 1962 study all the way through the current studies. What they find is that if a parent is really engaged, for example, that parent out there that's listening and they say, "I want to take my child to a preschool program, and I want to do it for the right reasons." Well, when the child gets home, they're going to be very supportive of that child and that child's going to excel. All that's fine. If it's a program where somebody can say, "I just don't think I'm cut out for parenting and I just as soon let somebody else take that role." Okay, well I guess we acknowledge that and move forward, but it's not the ultimate outcome.

The ultimate benefit to the child is going to be very minimal because sure you can teach a child to count numbers and to recite the alphabet, maybe even to read at an earlier age, but that's not necessarily going to shape them to be a better citizen or a better person generally, unless they've got supportive parents at home.

That's really the key to all of this is you need to have parents that are encouraging and supportive and if they are, whether the child gets preschool or not, they'll probably excel in school.

Lori Walsh:

What sort of tools can a state legislature look at to give that kind of support for parents where they can afford the cost of preschool out of their personal paychecks or where they have those sort of resources and that family support? How do you see that?

Steven Haugaard:

Well, I just don't see the state having an appropriate role in taking over the early years of a child. That's kind of the bottom line. I do see the state having a role in trying to encourage private programs along that line. There's all sorts of, at least in Sioux Falls and Rapid and the larger cities across the state, there's all sorts of preschool programs that are available, whether it's through churches or coalitions. That's not the right word. Cooperatives of parents that want to help their kids. There's lots of homeschool programs where they have cooperatives and share resources and information. So those things are out there and oftentimes at no cost or very low cost. So it's available and I don't think the state needs to step in and try to interfere with what's already going on that's a good thing.

Lori Walsh:

As we look at South Dakota in a national picture and we see how many states, Minnesota, other states who offer a state-sponsored preschool, almost every state. I think there's just two, including South Dakota who has an early learning advisory council. That effort for an early learning advisory council, which is not the same thing as offering a state-funded preschool was defeated handily in the legislature. What was your opposition to just the council itself sort of learning more about what resources are available in this state and kind of looking more broadly on the future? The present need and future solutions. What was your opposition to that?

Steven Haugaard:

Well it comes with those suggestions of presumption that there's going to be a good result. Most of these studies that you read, you can tell the bias of the writer, whether it's pro or con. When you look at the documented evidence, you find that essentially the results are very, very poor.

Lori Walsh:

The results of a council? The results of-

Steven Haugaard:

No, no, no, of a preschool program that's mandated. As far as a council, that'd be fine. That could be a summer study. That can be a variety of things. I've never been big on that. I think that if you've got an opinion about it, you'll express your opinion. If you want to bring forward some legislation, you can do that. Like I said, referencing this health and human services study from 2014, the best they could do is to say that positive outcomes were we got more kids some dental care and it was unclear if there was really that much of a benefit. Even with the parents' engagement, there is some degree, but not much.

Lori Walsh:

So what I'm trying to get at here for my own clarity is the effort to say, "No, we don't need an early learning advisory council," is really an effort to block preschool itself and then therefore to block mandatory preschool? Help me understand where we're at and sort of if the river is flowing up here, do you think one is a slippery slope to the other? I guess is what I'm asking.

Steven Haugaard:

I guess I could probably tend in that direction, that if you set up the council, you're going to have some presumptions that this an important thing that we need to pursue. Then the next step is, well let's have a pilot study, and the next step is let's go ahead and fund it for a couple of years. And the next step is it's permanently funded. The fact is, just read the research studies.

Lori Walsh:

Do you think the next step would be, it's mandatory?

Steven Haugaard:

I think it'd get to the point of mandatory. When I was, for example, growing up, our kindergarten consisted of one week of attending school to find out where the bathroom was and that was about the extent of kindergarten. I think if you'd study the achievement of kids in that range, you'd find that they did very well because they had supportive family environments for the most part and they would start school at six or seven years old and they'd pick up and take off and do very well. I think the benefit of preschool right now is very limited and I think the research, the neutral research from health and human services, supports the idea that ... Limited benefit.

Lori Walsh:

We're not necessarily seeing a strong appetite from lawmakers right now to continue this conversation and you don't see the traction with it. Hypothetically, if there was, how difficult would it be to create a state funded preschool or early learning program from a financial standpoint? Do you have any sense of how much it would cost? Not for the early learning council, but for-

Steven Haugaard:

The actual program itself?

Lori Walsh:

The actual program itself. Do you have any sense?

Steven Haugaard:

Yeah. When you look at the studies and what they try to do as far as ratios, especially for kids in that three to four year age range, they'd like to have it no more than a 10:1 ratio, which is half of what we have now for the rest of school or at least two-thirds. You'd be looking at more teachers, more engagement, more hands-on involvement. And for example, in Sioux Falls, we're already spending over $10,000 per student per year on education. You can send them to private school for a lot less. So if we're looking at those same numbers, multiply it times number of students and that's what it's going to cost to establish preschool in Sioux Falls; 25,000 students times ... Divided by, I guess you have 2000 students per class essentially. So 2000 times, $10,000. It's a lot of money.

Lori Walsh:

I'm lost in that math now, right there.

Steven Haugaard:

Well, a couple thousand new students each year in the system and $10,000 a piece, it adds up to a lot of money.

Lori Walsh:

Speaker Haugaard, thank you so much for being here today. Any final thoughts on, on pre-K and what, you know, lawmakers who are listening, South Dakotans who are listening, do you have any final advice and sort of how to get your mind around early learning for the kids in your district?

Steven Haugaard:

Well, what I would suggest is be engaged with your school boards, attend the functions at the schools and know what's going on, but also read the studies as far as preschool and the benefits, especially like I make reference to this health and human services study of the federal government. What I'd like to see for the legislatures, I'd like to see our education committees take a look at these things just in general terms and have the information readily available so that when these issues come up, there's an informed response and that's what we should be doing.

Lori Walsh:

Thanks for being here today. We appreciate your time.

Steven Haugaard:

Thanks, Lori.

Is South Dakota Behind In Early Learning Opportunities?

By LORI WALSH

CREDIT SOUTH DAKOTA STATE UNIVERSITY

As we continue our month-long coverage of Pre-K in South Dakota, Mary Bowne and Carolyn Kippes, MD, join us to discuss Pre-K from a healthcare and education research perspective.

Dr. Bowne, Ph.D., is a professor at South Dakota State University who specializes in early childhood education and human development. Dr. Kippes, MD, specializes in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

Lori Walsh:

Welcome to In the Moment continue our month-long coverage of pre-K in South Dakota, Mary Bowne joins us to share another perspective in the pre-K discussion and to discuss what she sees as being important to this conversation. Mary Bowne is a professor at South Dakota State University, who specializes in early childhood education and human development.

Mary, thank you for being here. Welcome.

Mary Bowne:

Well, thank you so much for having me.

Lori Walsh:

And she's joining us from the Jeanine Basinger Studio at South Dakota State University.

And with us here in the Kirby Family Studio, we have Dr. Carolyn Kippes. She's with Sanford Children's and works with developmental and behavioral pediatrics as well.

Dr. Kippes, thanks for being here.

Carolyn Kippes:

Thank you for having me.

Lori Walsh:

Mary, I want to start with you, and tell me a little bit about your work and your specialty with your expertise and educational background, if you would please? Let's set the stage.

Mary Bowne:

Absolutely. I obtained my bachelor's and master's degree from South Dakota State in human development and early childhood, and then my educational doctorate in curriculum and instruction from USD.

I've worked many hours observing children in the pre-K setting. We have a laboratory school here at South Dakota State University campus, where we have children enrolled who are toddlers all the way through kindergarten. And so, there's daily observations that I can make and interactions that I can make with the children and families, as well.

And then my research goes back, or stems back to my observations, as well as other studies that I've been completing.

Lori Walsh:

And Dr. Kippes, tell us a little bit about your work with Sanford.

Carolyn Kippes:

I'm a developmental-behavioral pediatrician. What I usually explain to parents is, we're kind of a rare breed of dog, there's not a lot of us around. But what it means is I'm a general pediatrician with extra training in child development and behavior.

In our clinic, we work with kids who have some variation in their developmental process, what language delays, motor delays or behavioral problems.

Lori Walsh:

All right. What we're trying to get at, this month, is we have these ongoing conversations about early learning and preschool and basically little kids and how they think and how they learn.

Mary, when we're talking about pre-K education, we're talking about early learning. How do you define that? Because what we're finding is as people come in, they have different ideas of what this is. We've heard everything from socialization to indoctrination to, they had to learn how to stand in line, to, it's more important to stay home and play. How do you frame this conversation?

Mary Bowne:

Absolutely. Typically, pre-K is a classroom-based preschool program for children under the age of five years. It's usually a program that develops social-emotional skills, academic skills, and exposes children to an educational environment using a play-based curriculum. And that's what's so important, is the play. What research has shown time and time again that children need to play. And this type of play isn't with technological devices. It's with human contact and with real materials in hand.

We all learn in different ways. Some learn with visuals; some learn by listening. But within a pre-kindergarten classroom, you're going to see all of that taking place, primarily with hands-on activities for these children.

And you're going to see structured components to the day, and you're going to see unstructured components. Structured being group times and small group activities. Unstructured time is free play and that free play is, they're planned activities, based on a children's individual goals as well as the classroom needs and individual needs. But within that time period, children are allowed to go do what they want to do within the classroom and ultimately, what that's helping them build is their confidence, self-expression, their creativity, communication, logical thinking and problem solving, and the list goes on.

Lori Walsh:

And Dr. Kippes, another thing that we keep hearing is, that gets into this idea of brain development and child development and socialization from some perspectives, and really about identifying problems.

And some people are saying, "Well, we really need to identify any kind of developmental delays and problems early so we can address them." And other people saying, "Yeah, if you identify too early, we put kids into these boxes and labels and then produce," and they're just going to catch up by third grade, or they're going to catch up by first grade. They might just be being four and they might pick up a label in a pre-K environment that they wouldn't have if they hadn't been there.

Lori Walsh:

Help us put that into perspective.

Carolyn Kippes:

Right. And it's hard because I think families come to us with some of those preconceived notions. "I don't want my kid to be labeled, I don't want to ... "

And I guess, from sitting on the side of the desk that we do in a clinic that, we want to identify differences that are significant enough that are getting in that child's way. Because then we want to implement interventions that will help them narrow that gap, catch up, and do it faster. And could some of these mild delays, maybe just with the kids, potentially just catch up on their own? Or is there ... ? Sure, but what if we catch them up faster and then we get them right on pace with their peers right away? And then we're not waiting around for it to happen.

I think early intervention is shown, time and time again, to be the best approach to developmental differences for kids.

Lori Walsh:

What do we know today in your field ... how fast is our knowledge about really child development in this time frame, changing? We're learning a lot pretty quickly, or is this stuff that, well, we've known for a long time? The importance between birth and six years old.

Carolyn Kippes:

It's changing pretty quickly. I think it's in the last few decades that people have really gotten a better understanding of what's going on in, for kids learning. I think, again, there's research going back into the '50s and '60s where we were just starting to figure out that these aren't just, babies aren't just fleshy the little blobs that are cute and eat and make messy diapers. They're actually learning and they're actually interacting with the people in their environment and learning. And actually, all that learning that's happening, even right after birth, is all foundation for the learning that they do when they're a preschooler, or when they're in kindergarten or beyond that.

That brain development and that brain learning happens so early. And I think we're just now grasping that, and now having to figure out how do we get everybody else on board? And realizing that we need to be paying attention to this.

Lori Walsh:

Mary, really the same question, only from your perspective. How much do we know about ... ? We hear time and time again, somebody saying, "When I was in kindergarten, I learned how to cut with scissors and that was the big deal." And now these kids are being, they're capable of so much more, but they're being asked of so much more. We've learned a lot.

Mary, how quickly has our idea of what early childhood learning and education should look like, how rapid is that developing?

Mary Bowne:

Well, the amount of studies that are being done right now and have been done in the past have shown time and time again the importance of pre-kindergarten, and yes, we want to challenge children, but we don't want to make them to a point where they become bored or they don't want to be in the classroom necessarily anymore. We want to challenge them to their individual level.

And brain development, like she had mentioned, there's more and more research being done on it, but the amount of brain development that's taken place in those early years is crucial. And it's not trying to force this information to the children, it's allowing them to explore, allowing them to experiment with their surroundings and having them ask questions and helping them gain those answers to those questions that they might have.

In regards to studies that have been done, I mean, even back in the '70s they've done longitudinal studies of preschool children who've been tracked until adulthood and into their adulthood, and they're showing children who were in quality childcare programs have 28%, were less likely to develop alcohol and drug problems or end up in jail. Or they're 24% more likely to attend college, high have higher incomes in adulthood. They have better math and reading and writing skills, less likely to become teen parents, marijuana users, cigarette smokers, and like I said, this isn't just one study. These are multiple studies that are being done to show the importance of those early learning years.

Lori Walsh:

Mary, is South Dakota progressive in the early learning regressive? What sort of words do you describe where we're at compared to pre-K kids in other states?

Mary Bowne:

At this point, I'd say we're definitely behind. I know there's been mention about the fact that there's plenty of pre-K programs with church offerings and if, as long as there are supportive parents out there, the issue is that, what do you constitute as quality?

South Dakota has no requirements or regulations for preschools, unless the preschool is used as a substitute for parental care. So someone can claim them, to be themselves a preschool, but ultimately what's taking place within that location. 43 states provide publicly-funded preschool programming, serving over 1.3 million children, but South Dakota's not one of those 43 states. And I understand, I mean, our state education and social services administration, they've got so much on their plates already. It's just, it's so hard to find time and effort to be putting into these components and having the support as well. It's not because we don't care, it's because we don't have necessarily the support that we need.

Another example too, is that there was a preschool development grant that was given by the Department of Education recently, and 46 states received monies ranging from a half a million to billions of dollars, for each state. But South Dakota didn't apply. Again, it's not because we don't care, it's just because we don't have the, necessarily the support to be able to apply for those things.

Lori Walsh:

Dr. Kippes, you work with parents, right?

Carolyn Kippes:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lori Walsh:

Because you work with kids. And, what are they looking for? What sort of, and what I'm going to get at eventually here is sort of the value of teachers and what Mary is doing in the lab, there, and what preschool teachers, qualified teachers, early learning educators are capable of doing for parents who have kids, birth to five. What sort of developmental issues are you're looking for that you would come to your pediatrician and say, "I'm concerned about this, I'm concerned about this"?

Carolyn Kippes:

Sure. "I'm observing my child with other kids the same age and they're not talking as much as other children, or they're later to walking or, gosh, you know what, my kid, when they are upset, so much more, they are really having a hard time calming themselves or being able to get over an upset, where I watch other kids being able to settle themselves down."

So those are some of the classical developmental things that we look at. And then, also the social-emotional development. And that's where you get people who are trained in early childhood education. They're knowledgeable, they know how to do that, to watch for those milestones for kids.

Lori Walsh:

Right. And what are some of those interventions? When do you tell a parent to sort of be concerned? When do you tell them to sit back and wait this one out?

And if they are concerned, what resources do parents have to take a step to help this kiddo out?

Carolyn Kippes:

That's a great question. Their primary care clinician has the ability to ... There's wonderful tools that are used for screening for developmental milestones, but also social-emotional development. And a lot of the pediatricians and family medicine clinicians have this available in their office. They can do those kinds of screenings, and that can help sort of weed out who's a kid that maybe needs additional referral.

If there is additional need, then you can look at your local school district Birth-to-Three services, if the child's under the age of three, or early childhood special education programming after the age of three.

Lori Walsh:

Mary, let's talk about teachers, educators, and tell me a little bit more about the lab school that you have there at SDSU.

Mary Bowne:

Sure. Our lab school, as I mentioned earlier, has different classrooms with observation booths. And in those classrooms, we have children from 15 months all the way through kindergarten.

Within the lab school, there's research that's being done on the children as well as the families that are present there. And it's something that's offered to the community on a tuition-based ... We're one of the three, excuse me, four I believe, centers in South Dakota that's accredited by any EYC, which is the highest quality possible for early childhood, or childcare programs, excuse me, in the state.

We try and make sure that when we have our students in the classrooms, that are wanting to become early childhood teachers, they're seeing top-quality. So they know, when they get out into their own classrooms, different things that they might want to try or attempt with their children and how to help them, as well as the families.

Lori Walsh:

Tell me a little more about the research, because that has to be an interesting environment to conduct research in, for a variety of reasons.

Mary Bowne:

Yes, and the nice thing is that since we are located on campus, we have other professions and, or excuse me, other professions, other programs that utilize our lab school. Primarily, because if they're completing research with children, here's a great way where children are on campus and they're able to come in and observe those children without being an interference in the classroom whatsoever for these children.

Lori Walsh:

Dr. Kippes, tell me a success story. Because for parents who face a child with some kind of health issue or developmental delay, there is a lot of fear that comes up. And sometimes that fear can lead to denial, and denial can lead to inaction, maybe unintentionally, because a parent doesn't have time or awareness or financial resources. But also, sometimes you might have all of that and you might hesitate because you're nervous. You don't want this to be your story, you don't want this developmental, you don't want to hear the word "autism," you don't want to hear something. But, tell me what's on the other side of some of the hard work and tough conversations?

Carolyn Kippes:

Right, I think ... Well, a quick success story would be, recently I saw a little girl back, I had seen her about six to nine months ago, and she wasn't really saying many words. And actually, they were worried about autism. But when I evaluated her, she did not fit diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, but she actually had a language delay. And we were able to get her connected with their local Birth-to-Three services, and it was amazing the amount of progress that she made in six to nine month’s time.

And really, it was just about figuring out where was she struggling with her language, and getting those interventions. And now all of a sudden, she's not completely caught up, but boy, she made a huge gains, and the family was just so relieved, to have that kind of a success story.

Fortunately, in the work that I do, there's lots of successes that it, sometimes it just meant how big of a success you're going to measure. Sometimes it's small things, like we've got a kid who is now calling their mom "mom" or "dad," giving them a name. So they're actually getting to hear that from their kid's voice. Or, now we've made it into kindergarten or not needing a lot of extra help.

Again, it's when we catch it early, we're able to make these, sometimes these little victories, and sometimes they accumulate into really big leaps that, again, we might have really a lot of grief and sometimes sadness at the time that we're having that initial, tough conversation about what the diagnosis is, but ideally, down the road we're having these wonderful conversations about, "Remember how worried we were about Johnny that, would he ever talk? And now we wish he would stop talking for a little bit," kind of stuff.

Lori Walsh:

Mary, as we look at the conversation from a political standpoint, and I'm not asking you to get political, but if there was an appetite in peer to sort of move forward into early learning council, into funding preschool education from a state, how much ground do we have to make up?

Mary Bowne:

Oh, that's a great question. I'm kind of limited in regards to what I can say, but we are behind, and by milestones in regards to other states.

And so, it really, at this point, it's going to take all of us. It takes a community, as that African proverb says, "It takes a community or village to build a child." We need to be those advocates for those children. We need to be the ones who are out there speaking out for them and helping them.

Research doesn't lie. It tells us what's happening when children are enrolled in quality pre-K programs, and in order to get the ball rolling, we need such things as an advisory board to get going and getting started in regards to what we can potentially do for this state and for the children in our state.

Lori Walsh:

Carolyn Kippes is a child development and behavioral pediatrician with Sanford, and Mary Bowne is a professor at South Dakota State University, specializing in early childhood education and human development. This is all part of our month-long conversation on pre-K in South Dakota.

Lori Walsh:

If you have an idea, if you have an experience with preschool that you'd like to talk to us about, send us an email, inthemoment@SDPB.org.

Lori Walsh:

Carolyn, thank you for being here. We really appreciate it.

Carolyn Kippes:

Thank you.

Lori Walsh:

Mary, thank you as well.

Mary Bowne:

Thank you.

What Lies Ahead For Pre-K Education In South Dakota?

By LORI WALSH

House Minority Whip Erin Healy

In The Moment ... September 16, 2019

In February, the South Dakota Legislature killed a bill that would have established a committee to study South Dakota's pre-kindergarten programs.

House Minority Whip Erin Healy was the prime sponsor of House Bill 1175 which would create an Early Learning Advisory Council. Healy called her bill a South Dakota solution to a problem that desperately needs attention. What lies ahead for Pre-K education in South Dakota? As we continue our month-long look into Pre-K we welcome Representative Erin Healy to the Kirby Family Studio in Sioux Falls.

Lori Walsh:

Welcome back to In the Moment. I'm Lori Walsh. In February, the South Dakota State Legislature killed a bill that would have established a committee to study South Dakota's pre-kindergarten programs. House minority whip, Erin Healy was the prime sponsor of House Bill 1175, which would have created an early learning advisory council. Healy called her bill a South Dakota solution to a problem that desperately needs attention. Well, what lies ahead for pre-K education in our state? As we continue our month-long look into pre-K, we welcome representative Erin Healy to the Kirby family studio in SDPB Sioux Falls studios. Erin, welcome back to In the Moment. Thanks for being here.

Erin Healy:

Thank you for having me.

Lori Walsh:

All right, this is something that when elected, you came into Pierre with a pretty strong voice to listen about what's happening with pre-K. Is that something that you heard from voters when you were running for office for the first time?

Erin Healy:

Yeah, I knocked on a lot of doors and a lot of people mentioned their concerns about education, specifically preschool. I think it's something that everyone, regardless of their political affiliation, can agree is something that needs to be addressed in our state.

Lori Walsh:

You are from district 14, which is a Sioux Falls district entirely.

Erin Healy:

Yes. It's entirely Sioux Falls in Minnehaha county.

Lori Walsh:

So very interestingly enough, the most urban part of the state was, you were hearing that, whereas the stories we're hearing now from parents are often rural stories of people driving an hour to get their kid to preschool. But even in a city like Sioux Falls, where you would think there would be lots of options, parents are bringing it up to you.

Erin Healy:

Even in the city. I know that we have programs such as headstart and there is a waiting list. I don't currently know what the numbers are. I could have told you what they were for last fall, but yeah there's still a very dire need for preschool, both in rural and urban areas of our state.

Lori Walsh:

All right. So, what did you come to Pierre thinking was the first step to address this problem?

Erin Healy:

I thought the first step was to establish that early learning advisory council. That council would have allowed us to conduct a statewide needs assessment so we could really understand exactly what was necessary to tackle the problem of more programs in our state. This would allow us to collaborate and coordinate on existing providers and programs and services. And it would also allow us to understand what the need would be for even just people who wanted to volunteer in their communities. We would be able to have a fuller, deeper understanding of the state's needs and how we can address that. And that's kind of why I've always stated that it's looking at the problem and finding a South Dakota solution.

Lori Walsh:

Right. So obviously not the first voice to talk about preschool, and Billie Sutton comes to mind as somebody who was the majority leader at one point and was talking about preschool education a lot. So when you get to Pierre and you meet with people who have had this conversation before, what are some of the feedback that you got from Democrats and Republicans?

Erin Healy:

Yeah. The feedback is either yes, we do need it and people who understand the needs, especially in rural areas or people who can't afford to send their children to preschool. As for opponents, they're saying that South Dakota doesn't have enough funding. I would like to disagree with that statement that our Department of Education has reverted over a million dollars back in the last two years back to the general fund. So to say that we don't have enough funding for a council that would cost $10,000 to $20,000 is just a little bit-

Lori Walsh:

So the argument was not just there isn't funding for pre-K. There isn't funding to study the situation with a council.

Erin Healy:

Correct.

Lori Walsh:

That's what you heard. What's next? As that bill was defeated, then this summer, you've continued to continue on the work. You're working with a mental health task force, but you're also continuing to learn what's happening in the pre-K world across the country. What sort of efforts have you been part of?

Erin Healy:

Yeah. I've been working with a lot of preschool stakeholders across the state. We've been meeting multiple times this summer to discuss what we think could be done. I have researched a lot of policy from other states and how we can utilize that policy and turn it into something that would be a solution for our own state. And I'm having a really difficult time, given the current appetite for preschool in our state, as to what we can do. I would still love to see that early advisory council formed. I'm not quite sure if right now is the right time. I do know that we are jeopardizing our funds that we currently receive from federal funding, especially for the headstart program. They have considered changing the funding to block granting, and if we were to do that, we could lose our funding based off of just not having that council. And that's $23 million just in 2018 alone.

Lori Walsh:

And what is that funding going toward now?

Erin Healy:

That money is going towards the headstart program in South Dakota.

Lori Walsh:

Okay. So because there isn't an early learning advisory council, we're at risk of losing $23 million in federal funding that currently supports the headstart program?

Erin Healy:

Correct. If they were to change the way that the funding was structured, which has been proposed numerous times on a federal level, then we could instantly lose that money if that funding were to change.

Lori Walsh:

All right. So, some people are saying, A, we know we can't afford preschool. How much would it cost per child? Do we have any sense of if we wanted to implement preschool that was state sponsored, is there a ... and we have to infrastructure, workforce. There have to be teachers. All kinds of things have to happen that are not currently in place. How far away are we from being able to, if there was an appetite, not just for studying it, but for implementing? What's the gap that has to be crossed?

Erin Healy:

You know, I'm not quite sure. Well one, we don't know how much it would cost because of course we're not there yet, but I'm not quite sure that mandating preschool for all South Dakotans is the option for our state. I want to make it really clear that we want to make sure that parents are always given the option of providing that education at home, because some parents can do that. We just know that our state with 74% of working families, we know that people can't afford to send their kids or don't have the structure in their communities available to send their children to preschool. We need to make sure that that is always an option for our state.

Lori Walsh:

Why is preschool important for kids?

Erin Healy:

There are so many benefits. The school readiness aspect. It's narrowing the education gap. Better cognitive and character skills. It's improved attention and motivation, self-control and having kids be more sociable. And then there's benefits later in life. There's higher level of employability, greater earning potential. They're less likely to be incarcerated when they're older and then also lower teenage pregnancy rates and better health practices.

Lori Walsh:

Is the main argument or the main challenge, the main argument against pre-K, there's, I think you alluded to a fear or a concern about it being mandated. And there's this fear or concern or big fat question mark about the cost and how a cash-strapped state like South Dakota with so many needs, nursing homes comes to mind, how do we even do something like that? What else are you hearing? Are you hearing other arguments against this?

Erin Healy:

Yes. So, during our committee hearing, we heard that opponents, they had this argument that preschool is an attempt at the indoctrination and grooming into transgender and homosexual lifestyle, and that we're instilling a socialist agenda into the public school system. It was also mentioned that education is intended to instill intelligence and morality, and preschool doesn't do that.

Lori Walsh:

Those arguments maybe stopped you cold a little bit the first time you heard them. I mean, where did this sort of notion of a socialist agenda and transgender curriculum come from? Did that come out of the blue for you or?

Erin Healy:

I was not expecting to hear that argument at all. I knew I should expect hearing the argument that parents should be able to decide how their kid is educated before kindergarten. I'm very disappointed by the misinformation. And opponents used this discussion on the need for pre-K as an opportunity to dog whistle to anti-LGBTQ proponents and those advocating for traditional nuclear homes.

Lori Walsh:

All right. So, for people who say, "I just don't want ... It's not so much that there's a specific issue. I don't want" ... You know, as soon as you send your kid outside of the home, whether it's daycare in their cousin's house, the grocery store, you have to answer questions, right? So, you send your kid to pre-K, they come home. You know, we read a book. Johnny's dog died and I didn't realize that dogs could die. I mean, there's all kinds of things. Did you hear the sense that parents were like, "Just not yet.” Let us have this childhood for a little while longer." And how do you sort of express to them the world that kids are growing up in today, which is very different than the world that their parents grew up in?

Erin Healy:

I have never heard a single parent tell me that they don't want their children to go to preschool, that they need to shelter them from any life aspect that you could possibly learn in preschool, which I want to make clear. I don't believe people are learning that sort of information.

Lori Walsh:

It's not an indoctrination.

Erin Healy:

Exactly. Again, I heard it from so many of my constituents that this is so necessary, regardless of whether they had small children or kids in high school or whether their kids were out of the home. They understood that this is a necessary need for our state.

Lori Walsh:

And again, the idea of it not being mandatory. So, if you did choose to not send your kids to preschool, you wouldn't have to. And then for parents who are concerned like, "Okay, well I keep my kid at home, and they play in puddles and splash because that's what I think a three and four year old should be doing." Now I send them to kindergarten. There's going to be a gap there that as a parent I'm concerned with because I believe that they needed this sort of childhood, which is not about any socialist views, it's just about free time and not having to stand in line and being able to play. Now I send them to kindergarten and all their peers are practically coding by now or reading. How do you sort of address that kind of a gap?

Erin Healy:

Yeah. Of course all children need to be playing and learning just about the world around them. And I don't expect children to go to kindergarten knowing how to code. I think it's just important to teach kids to be ready for kindergarten and to have those social skills and to be able to stand in line or share their pencil or hold a pencil and be able to trace numbers and the alphabet. That's what we want to teach kids. It's not sitting in your seat all day with paperwork in front of you, learning multiplication at three years old. It's about learning how to play well and play well with others. And there are just so many aspects of being a child that once you get to kindergarten you should be at that point where you're ready to be able to sit in your chair and stand in line and share your pencil with the next kid.

Lori Walsh:

What is next in this conversation for you as you look at an upcoming session and as you listen to more parents and educators and lawmakers?

Erin Healy:

I'm going to try to continue to help the preschool movement in our state move forward and teach people what early learning really is about. It might not be preschool. It might be staying at home, but let's make sure that parents and guardians have the right tools accessible to them to make sure that their kid is ready for school.

Lori Walsh:

All right. What is early learning really about? That's one of the topics that we'll address on this program too, throughout the month of September as we look at pre-K in South Dakota. State Representative Erin Healy from district 14. Thanks so much for being here with us again to talk about this important topic.

Erin Healy:

Thank you for having me.

Pre-K and Early Learning in South Dakota

South Dakota leads the nation in the number of mothers per capita who work outside the home, yet multiple attempts to pass legislation for state-funded Pre-K education have failed. We discuss why South Dakota is one of the few states in the nation that does not help fund preschool education.

Guests include:

- Jessica Castleberry, SD Assoc. for the Education of Young Children

- Carmen Stewart, Director, HeadStart, University of South Dakota

- Billie Sutton, Sutton Leadership Institute

Jackie Hendry, SDPB's Education & Healthcare Reporter, discusses early learning programs in Murdo and Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation near Porcupine. Jessica Gromer, Program Officer, John T. Vucurevich Foundation, also appears to discuss early childhood ed.

Excerpt from SD Focus: Pre-K and Early Learning in SD

Education and healthcare reporting on SDPB is supported by Regional Health, helping patients and communities live well