By MOLLY WRIGHT/Montana State News

“Bringing voluntary, high-quality early childhood education to every Montana kid.”

That’s the premise behind Governor Steve Bullock’s proposal for a $37 million budget allotment to fund free early-childhood education to all Montana children.

The proposal, titled Early Edge Action, would provide voluntary half-day education to 4-year-old children statewide. Forty-two states already have free early education programs available. Bullock is requesting state lawmakers to approve the $37 million in state funding to allow local school districts the option to add the program.

According to the Montana Budget and Policy Center, estimates of the return for every dollar spent on pre-K range from $4 to $17. Savings in criminal justice, special education, and higher tax revenue returns have also been shown from investing in free statewide preschool.

“We owe it to the future of Montana to give them the early edge to their education,” said Denise Juneau, state superintendent of public instruction. She spoke at a rally at the Capitol Building last Friday alongside Hushka and other supporters of the Early Edge Action proposal.

Niles Hushka, CEO of KLJ Solutions, an engineering firm based out of Billings, has signed on as board chairman. “I believe preschool education is more of a workforce issue,” he said. Hushka is seeing a shortage of engineers, and wants to secure Montana children’s early education to better prepare them for their future in the science and technology fields.

– Edited by Jeremy Gould