FAIRMONT - Fairmont's early childhood education programs have earned the highest rating from the state, and $33,000 to go with it.
According to Michelle Rosen, assistant principal at Fairmont Elementary and administrator for ECFE programs, a four-star Parent Aware rating indicates the programs have appropriate curriculum, assessments and licensed staff.
The rating is current for two years.
The Parent Aware rating system was created to address kindergarten readiness, as studies reveal nearly half of Minnesota's children are not prepared for kindergarten. It covers county Head Start and childcare programs as well.
All public early childhood programs are required to obtain a rating ranging from one to four stars by 2015 in a push to give families standardized information about early childhood education programs. Programs that earn four stars become eligible for early learning scholarship money, for early childhood program scholarships and program expansion.
Rosen said some of the money the district earned will likely be used directly for scholarships.
"Thirty-nine families qualify for financial assistance in the program," Rosen said. "That is over one-third of our program needing help."
The district's preschool programs allow parents to choose how many days per week a child attends. Three-year-olds go to preschool two days per week, while 4- and 5-year-olds have the option of two, three or four days per week.
It costs a family $540 per year for two days per week, $810 for three days per week and $1,035 for four days.
Scholarship dollars also are available to expand programming. Rosen hopes to see growth of the district's kinder prep program, which brings students to school during the summer before their kindergarten year to become familiar with school.
"We want to take the kids with the greatest need who are entering kindergarten and to an extended kinderprep," she said.
"Greatest need" could mean financial or educational, something the district would determine through screening tests already administered to all preschoolers.
In addition to Fairmont's Early Childhood Family Education and Discovery Place preschool program, other area entities receiving four-star ratings are Minnesota Valley Action Council Head Start in Martin and Faribault counties, Truman Schools Readiness Preschool and Blue Earth Area Schools.