HELENA – The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services(DPHHS) has released the first year evaluation of the state-funded STARS Preschool Pilot project.
STARS Preschool aims to help Montana children be kindergarten ready by providing access to high-quality and affordable early childhood education services.
Governor Steve Bullock worked with the 2017 Montana Legislature to secure $6 million in funding to establish STARS Preschool, which is the first-ever investment in publicly funded early childhood education in the state.
The project was implemented in 20 classrooms across Montana in public schools, private preschools and Head Start programs.
The report showed that children enrolled in STARS Preschool benefited academically with 93% of participants being kindergarten ready by the end of the year.
The numbers show 97% of family member of enrolled students said the felt engages with their preschool classroom and 94% of teachers said they were given effective opportunities to grow professionally.
Gov. Bullock praised the report and encouraged continued state investment in preschool opportunities for Montana families.
“As a father and as governor, I want to make sure that every child has every opportunity to succeed. This report shows that children in publicly funded preschool classrooms are not only ready for kindergarten, they are receiving a foundation that will better prepare them for success for the rest of their lives,” said Gov. Bullock.
“I encourage every state legislator to visit a STARS preschool classroom and see first-hand the difference it’s making for our kiddos, for our communities both urban and rural, and for our economy that’s depending on the workforce of tomorrow.,” he added.
Human & Community Services Division Administrator Jamie Palagi considers the first year of the pilot project to be a success and thinks the report is a good tool for the state to see what worked and what needs improvement.
Areas of improvement outlined in the report included a need for more access among rural and urban area across the state and supporting the implementation of a research-based curriculum.
Nearly half of the applicants for STARS said other preschool options were not available in their community.
Palagi said a significant thing to note was that most of the children in the program who were struggling compared to other students in the fall were back up to their peer’s performance level by the spring.
“We know that kids that come from low income background or have trauma experiences or other kinds of high needs sometimes a little bit of support in their early years and also as they move on in the K-12 system,” said Palagi, “If they have good support in their early years they won’t have as many challenges moving forward. “
Palagi added early education can have an incredible impact on a child’s future.
“The truth is that our brain develops the most in our early childhood years. By the time children are 5 to 8 years of age the brain is almost fully developed,” said Palagi, “So that means we have an opportunity of time to impact the connection in the brain with high-quality childhood experiences.”
The STARS Preschool Pilot project has now entered its second year with new students and an additional classroom in eastern Montana.
Data will be collected from the new group and compared against the first year’s data and presented to the Montana Legislature. It will then be up to the legislature to determine if the program will move out of it’s pilot stage and adopted statewide.
The full report and more information about STARS Preschool can be found on the DPHHS website.
–John Riley reporting for MTN News