PIERRE — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has $500,000 allotted for South Dakota in its Early Childhood Learning and Care program. But Gov. Mike Rounds’ administration doesn’t plan to apply for the money.
The state House of Representatives killed legislation in March that would have established an Early Childhood Council to oversee and promote pre-kindergarten programs in South Dakota. Members of his Cabinet considered recommending that the governor still seek the federal grant.
Instead, South Dakota will decline the Obama’s administration offer of the money, state Social Services Secretary Deb Bowman said Thursday.
“The decision has been made not to pursue the grant because it really just funds a council and doesn’t ultimately do much to address early learning.” Bowman said.
“We are continuing to discuss with the governor how to best move forward on early learning and he remains committed to creating a forum for discussion and work on that topic,” she continued.
“We have not determined the best way to do that yet, but (we) do not see the grant application as the best way.”
Under the federal program’s rules, South Dakota would have needed to provide $1,167,000 in cash or in-kind contributions as its 70 percent match for the federal aid.
Bowman said she was told by the program’s federal administrator that existing spending could have qualified as the match.
The state legislation attempted to establish a South Dakota Early Learning Council. Its work would have focused, in part, on preschool programs for low-income students statewide. Through that process, the council also would have invited communities to create comprehensive preschool plans, with the council reviewing the plans for acceptance.
The legislation had the strong support of Rounds’ administration including Education Secretary Tom Oster and Bowman.
Several opponents of the legislation spoke strongly in recent days against the administration continuing to consider pursuing the federal grant. Eagle Forum lobbyist Kitty Werthman said it would be a deliberate end-run around the Legislature.
The Rounds’ administration discussion of the grant came as the state Board of Education prepares for a hearing Monday on requiring all public school districts to report their preschool enrollment annually to the state Department of Education.
Concerned Women for America lobbyist Cindy Flakoll said there has been a steady push for state-supported preschools in recent years. She said it began in 2005 with a bill that sought to establish a pilot program.
“I remember it well. It was a bill to entice schools to start preschool programs by offering them funds,” Flakoll said. “Since 2004, there have been seven bills for public preschool that have been attempted and failed. The outcry from South Dakota citizens was huge. Ask any legislator, current or former.”
Source: The Daily Republic