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Three area schools to receive state pre-K funding

WILLMAR—Three area school districts have been awarded state funding to implement voluntary pre-kindergarten programs this fall.

Benson, Renville County West and Willmar schools have been chosen to receive part of a $25 million allocation approved by the 2016 Legislature.

Gov. Mark Dayton announced the funding Monday. He said it would help provide pre-K classes, free of charge, for 3,302 4-year-olds in 74 school districts.

Benson is set to receive $103,938; RCW will receive $173,887; and Willmar will receive $154,990. Each grant is expected to serve about 30 students, according to a release from the state.

School officials said they are still working out the details for how they might use the new funding.

Willmar Superintendent Jeff Holm said school officials are just beginning the discussion of how they will deliver the pre-K program. "We're very pleased that we got the funding," he said, and they have been discussing pre-K ideas for some time.

The district's new elementary school was designed to allow for a pre-K program, he said, and the two existing elementary schools will have room after the new school opens.

"I think there's significant evidence that pre-K programs pay off," he said. "On the flip side, until we have that school built, we'll have a challenge with space." The new school is set to open for the 2017-18 school year.

Dennis Laumeyer, Benson superintendent, said school leaders are still trying to decide if the district will accept the funding, as it does come with strings attached.

If the district accepts the funding, it will not be able to charge a fee for any of the pre-K classes it now offers. The district currently offers some pre-K classes.

It's not clear yet whether the district can afford to provide the courses if it loses the fees that parents now pay. "We are working through the calculations," he said. "We want to make sure the district won't be losing money because of it; however, being able to offer free preschool is a plus."

The superintendents said the state's announcement has not left them with much planning time, as school opens in one month.

Five other area school districts applied for funding but were turned down—Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, BOLD, Dawson-Boyd, New London-Spicer and Redwood Area.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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