Thursday, March 7, 2013

Opinion: Support Early Childhood Education

 Cross posted from the Fargo Forum

Letter: Speed early childhood ed bill to passage by the ND House

By: By Kirsten Baesler, Sen. Nicole Poolman and Sen. Phil Murphy, INFORUM

We want to thank the senators of North Dakota for their strong bipartisan support on SB 2229 involving funding for early childhood education for North Dakota’s youngest citizens. The lofty goals of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act require all students nationwide to meet rigorous standards.

North Dakota has always had a good educational system; our test scores are among the highest in the nation. Our goal is to move from good to great by creating the best PK-12 educational system in the nation, and one approach to doing this is by supporting quality early childhood education directly aligned with our K-12 programs. We agree wholeheartedly that strong evidence of effectiveness should drive what the state funds, as well as what practices our schools implement.

We believe there is strong evidence to support early childhood education, but we want to build on this evidence and continue to collect data from the results. The earliest preschool students are now fourth graders. We will continue to collect academic data on these North Dakota students into middle and high school.

North Dakota early childhood programs aligned with public school districts have strong educational components that are developmentally appropriate. They are providing powerful data to demonstrate their effectiveness. The support for these programs should continue to provide further data. We would not embrace and support the issue of early childhood education if we didn’t believe that strong evidence does exist to show effectiveness – and that strong evidence will continue to exist.

To keep moving forward and continue making gains in education, we support the full passage of SB 2229 as it moves to the House and believe it will lead to success for the state of North Dakota. This bill will allow DPI to begin to work with more schools to implement early childhood education so that we can continue to collect data to present to the 64th Legislative Assembly.

The implementation of the early childhood education grants will strengthen our study and will also allow us to include actual North Dakota early childhood education results in our report to the Legislature. We believe that our North Dakota school districts fully understand the needs of their communities. These grants will support districts that have expressed a need for early childhood education and allow them to develop programs to best meet their communities’ needs.

Thanks again for supporting early childhood education; this is bipartisan work at its finest! We believe children are our future and it is critical to educate them now, when they are most ready to learn.

Kirsten Baesler, State Superintendent
Baesler is N.D. Superintendent of Public Instruction;
Senator Nicole Poolman
Sen. Poolman, R-Bismarck, represents District 7 in the N.D. Senate;
Photo Senator Philip M. Murphy
Sen. Phil Murphy, D-Portland, represents District 20 in the N.D. Senate.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hunger in North Dakota

There seems to be some surprise that there is a need for food assistance in North Dakota, the state with the best economy in the nation. While it’s true that the oil boom has brought prosperity to many in the state, it has also brought rising costs of living for housing, food, childcare and other necessities.
For example, at the same time the economy was taking off in 2009-2010, the poverty rate also increased, marking the first statistically significant increase since 2004.  In 2011, 1 in 8 North Dakota people lived below the poverty line, meaning earning less than about $23,000 per year for a family of four. Put another way, 12.5 percent or 81,000 residents live at or below poverty level, including 24,116 children.
Did you know that 76 percent of low income families work? And that a fourth of working families have low incomes? In fact, 43 percent of households receiving SNAP (the program formerly known as Food Stamps) benefits have earned income. And here is another fact that some North Dakotans find surprising: 75 percent of North Dakota’s children born in 2011 were served by WIC, the special food and nutrition education program for low income mothers and children up to age 5 with nutrition risks.
When it comes to having enough money for food, 1 in 9 North Dakotans is food insecure, meaning that they do not have enough food every day for a healthy, active life. That includes nearly six percent of our senior citizens and 13 percent of children, or around 17,000 kids.
The efforts of the Great Plains Food Bank and the statewide network of food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, along with programs like SNAP, WIC and school lunch and breakfast programs, play an important role in helping support parents in caring for our children. Hungry children cannot perform to their fullest ability in school, nor can employees fully concentrate and be their most productive at work without enough healthy food.
Senior meals programs for our older residents help provide quality, safe and adequate food, opportunities for socialization and help people remain living in their own homes and communities. In 2011, more than a million meals were served through home-delivered “meals on wheels” and meals at senior centers across the state.
As Governor Dalrymple noted in his State of the State address,Taking care of our own is what we do in North Dakota.” And the recent report summary from the North Dakota 2020 and Beyond effort recognizes the need to address these issues by recommending the efforts of the Creating a Hunger Free North Dakota Coalition.
Though not a new sentiment, we believe “It takes a village to raise a child.” And making sure that our children and all our state’s residents can access enough healthy food is one thing we can do to end hunger in our state by 2020. We have the resources; we just need to find the will.

Writing for the North Dakota Economic Security and Prosperity Alliance,
Karen K. Ehrens, R.D., L.R.D.
Bismarck, ND 58501