District 191 gets more prekindergarten funding

Will serve 104 more 4-year-olds this year

New state funding will allow School District 191 to nearly double the number of 4-year-olds in its voluntary prekindergarten program.

The district will add 104 slots to the 116 it offered last year when it launched the program, according to Cindy Check, early childhood programs coordinator for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district.

Prekindergarten classes will debut at Gideon Pond and Vista View elementary schools in Burnsville, she said. A second class will be added at Hidden Valley Elementary in Savage. Already hosting classes last year were Sky Oaks Elementary in Burnsville, Rahn Elementary in Eagan and Diamondhead Education Center in Burnsville.

“We wanted to increase the number of sites in order to have children be able to attend their home school area,” Check said.

The district will receive $556,418 to expand the program. It’s one of 59 Minnesota districts or charter schools chosen to receive $50 million in new funding approved by the 2017 Legislature, Gov. Mark Dayton’s office announced.

The new funding is in addition to $566,181 the district was granted in 2016. District 191 launched prekindergarten in the 2016-17 school year as a small, fee-based program and has used state funding to expand it free of charge.

New funding will serve 22,500 Minnesota preschoolers this fall through school-based prekindergarten programs or early learning scholarships, the governor said in an Aug. 4 news release.

“We did some pre-planning and are able to absorb the new funding and provide the 104 additional voluntary prekindergarten spots,” Check said.

The district chose the sites “based on community need and feedback about where families are seeking that opportunity,” she said.

State criteria for receiving prekindergarten funding included concentrations of students eligible for free and reduced-price school meals, Check said. But all district families are eligible to apply.

Prekindergarten focuses on learning through play, Check said.

“Our philosophy is that children’s play is really how they learn,” she said. “We ensure that they have a lot of opportunity for curiosity and wondering and exploration. We have a high emphasis on children’s social-emotional learning. We know that kids who have self-regulation skills and the ability to attend and work within a group are going to be more successful when they enter kindergarten.

“We also know that pre-K isn’t kindergarten. We’re not trying to duplicate kindergarten. We want children at 4 to make their own choices, to do some exploration, to learn through play. We want to partner with parents. We’re looking at ways we can increase our partnerships with parents.”

The district will expand the prekindergarten teaching staff from four teachers to seven, Check said. The district’s goal is to keep class sizes at 16 to 18 students, she said. Children must be 4 years old by Sept. 1 and complete an early-childhood screening to be eligible.

The program will open Sept. 12 and run through June, she said. Classes are three hours a day, four days a week, Tuesday to Friday, she said. Class times offered are 9 a.m. to noon and 12:55-3:55 p.m.

Both rounds of funding continue through 2018-19, Check said.

“The hope would be that we have an opportunity to work with the Legislature to really demonstrate the value of the program and continue the funding” in future years, she said.