Sept. 15, 2022 (HELENA, Mont.) – Montana’s constitutional authorities on education met this week for the second time this year to discuss a vision for the future of education in the state and identified early childhood education as a priority. Currently, Montana is one of six U.S. states without a publicly funded preschool option and state funding for the early childhood system in general is limited.
Zero to Five Montana, an organization dedicated to expanding and improving the early care and education system in the state, is encouraged by the commitment of this group to address this longstanding and complex issue.
“We often hear from parents, educators and employers who don’t understand why options are so limited for early education in Montana, and who are concerned about the future for children in our state. Many children in Montana need more time and support to close the opportunity gap, and early education is a great solution,” said Zero to Five Montana Executive Director Caitlin Jensen.
Early childhood education is a key element in building a high-performing education system that prepares graduates for careers, college, and life beyond. Children who attend early childhood education programs develop enhanced social and emotional skills and are more likely to be ready to enter school, graduate high school, attend college, and have higher earning potential throughout their lifetimes.
For most families in Montana, early care and education options are limited or pose a financial burden. Head Start and Early Head Start programs are available for eligible children, but other private child care options have lengthy wait lists or come at a cost of more than $8,000 a year. Community partnerships between our public school system, Head Start and quality child care to meet the specific needs of young children and families is a pathway our legislature could consider.
Rep. David Bedey, who chairs the Interim Budget Committee for Section E (Education) said he was convinced the diverse group of stakeholders had come to a common understanding of their strategic goals. He invited the group to plan to meet again after the next legislative session in May or June 2023 to expand efforts.
“Until we meet again, let’s see what we can do – each and every one of us within our organizations – to let the public know that, yes we have a strong school system, but times are changing and there is a case for change, and that we are suggesting a way forward to do even better for the children in the state of Montana,” Bedey said.