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Facilities grant program proposed

Published (2/22/2008)
By Courtney Blanchard
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A $5 million request to fund early childhood learning facilities across the state is at the forefront of the House Early Childhood Learning Finance Division’s bonding request.

On Feb. 14, the division approved the bonding request, bundled in HF2561. The request awaits action by the House Capital Investment Finance Division.

Sponsored by Division Chairwoman Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood), the bill would establish grants to fund preschool and child care centers in areas with high poverty. To be eligible, the facilities must be owned or leased from state or local government agencies.

Richard Bartz, principal of Houston Elementary School, said the school district would apply for a grant to renovate the upstairs of an old Presbyterian church donated to the district. The district renovated the basement for use by preschoolers after the kindergarten expanded to an all-day program in its old location. With more room, the district could lengthen preschool hours, provide parenting classes and house other early childhood programs, Bartz said.

Beth Stanford, director of Semcac Head Start in southeast Minnesota, said the grants would help expand a program that’s already had some success in pooling resources of several rural Head Start centers.

“We’re serving a primarily rural population, and that’s difficult for our program to reach all the families of need. It’s just not cost effective for us to have a Head Start center in every small town in our six-county area,” she said.

The bonding request also includes a $3 million recommendation to fund a child and parent resource center in Austin.

Sen. Tarryl Clark (DFL-St. Cloud) sponsors the companion bill, SF2493, which awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee. The Senate version does not include a funding request for the Austin Area Success Center.

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