The state Office of Public Instruction wants to create rules that would govern future public pre-kindergarten programs, should the state legislature allocate funding for early-childhood education, the agency announced Thursday.
Officials have been working for several months to draft accreditation standards for preschool programs, which outline everything from teacher licensing requirements to class size, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau said.
State standards for pre-K programs currently do not exist, as Montana does not fund early-childhood education.
Creating standards for pre-K similar to those governing K-12 schools would help ensure that programs receiving state funds would be of high caliber, Juneau said.
“The program standards are brand new rules,” she said. ‘”These would be rules ... that schools have to live by in order to provide an accredited program in the state.”
“With state public dollars will come state public accountability,” she said.
As part of the change, OPI is proposing to add a new “early childhood” educator license endorsement that would be required to teach preschool students. The endorsement would qualify teachers to teach students age three through third grade.
Current pre-K teachers would be given several years to obtain the endorsement.
Montana is one of eight states that does not fund early-childhood education. Gov. Steve Bullock has made changing that a top legislative priority and said he plans to put forward a funding package for public pre-K programs during the 2015 session.
Details of that proposal have not been announced, but Bullock said during a May summit on the topic that his proposal would give local school districts the option to create voluntary pre-K programs for four year olds.
On Thursday, Bullock addressed the Board of Public Education, which will consider the accreditation rules being proposed by OPI.
“What you’ll provide through this is that foundation to show what a quality program really is,” Bullock said.
Juneau will present the complete set of proposed rules to the board in September.
“This is really just setting the stage for what’s coming,” she said.