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Tuition relief for early-childhood educators reaches governor's desk

The House passed Senate Bill 118 Monday. The bill expands eligibility for teachers to qualify for reduced tuition.

The main beneficiaries of SB 118 would be head start teachers who care for children between the ages of three and five.

Rep. Rebecca Reimer said it’s about closing the gap between head start and K-12 teachers.

"This would allow head start teachers in the state to be eligible for the same tuition reimbursement that K-12 teachers are eligible for," Reimer said. "Head start teachers have a bachelor’s degree in either early childhood, or elementary degree with an endorsement in early childhood.”

Speaking in support of 118 was Rep. Tamara St. John, who advocated for head start programs in tribal settings.

“The children and families participating in these programs find programs that incorporate unique history, community, traditions and beliefs into the important services that support child development, parenting skills, and assist in their transition to Kindergarten,” St. John said.

Some, including Rep. Bethany Soye, questioned state funding of the program.

“I just want us all to keep in mind that this is another ongoing funding that we’re adding to the budget and the head start program is a federally funded program," Soye said. "So, I don’t know if this is the precedent we want to set.”

The total cost of the bill for 150 head start teachers in eight South Dakota programs was estimated at about $2,700 per year. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture