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School districts given flexibility to fund preschool programs

BISMARCK -- Lawmakers passed two proposals Wednesday that will allow school districts to use local tax revenues to fund early childhood programs.

It's a move many lawmakers say will help increase the number of preschool programs around the state.

"It's an incentive to take a hard look at local tax dollars," said Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, chairman of the House Education Committee. "Up until today, districts didn't have the authority."

The Senate passed House Bill 1429 and the House passed Senate Bill 2229. Both contained similar language and originally included funding requests to allocate grants to school districts to kick-start preschool programs. Both were stripped of their funding in committee.

Now, working alongside a new K-12 funding formula that hasn't been passed yet, districts will be able to levy local taxes specifically for early childhood programs.

"It's allowing districts to be more flexible to do what they want to fund," said Sen. Nicole Poolman, R-Bismarck, the sponsor of the Senate bill.

Poolman said before passage of the two bills, 47 school districts were using local donations and federal funding to pay for a preschool program.