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Noem Appoints Early Learning Advocate to DiSanto’s Senate Seat

Did Governor Kristi Noem just slip up and appoint another supporter of universal preschool to the South Dakota Legislature?

Senator Jessica Castleberry
Senator Jessica Castleberry

Noem announced on New Year’s Eve that she is replacing District 35 Senate quitter Lyndi/Lynne DiSanto with Jessica Castleberry of Rapid City. Noem’s press release praises Castleberry first as a businesswoman, but she also is an educator, teaching at the pre-schools she owns and at the Black Hills State University Center for Enterprise Opportunity (although Castleberry won’t be able to return to that BHSU work if she remains in the Senate, since the Pitts 2001 precedent established that you can’t take any other state paycheck while legislating).

Castleberry has also presided (from 2017 into 2019) over the South Dakota Association for the Education of Young Children, among whose core beliefs is, “Equity and Opportunity—We advocate for policies, practices, and systems that promote full and inclusive participation. We confront biases that create barriers and limit the potential of children, families, and early childhood professionals.”

Full and inclusive participation—hmm… to get that, it seems a state would need free, fair, and universal access to preschool.

SDAEYC has a broken link on its public policy page labeled “State-funded Prekindergarten.” According to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, back in April 2017, that link noted that state-funded prekindergarten programs “have provided an array of opportunities – from enhancement grants to early childhood programs to reach higher standards, to increased professional development opportunities for prekindergarten teachers, to positive child outcomes that have been shown in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s prekindergarten program for children across ethnicities and socio-economic levels.”

Uff da—if Senator Castleberry talks like that in Pierre, the Speaker across the Rotunda from her august chamber will call her a socialist.

SDAEYC is part of the National AEYC, whose recommendations for public policymakers (of whom Castleberry is now one) include more public funding of preschool:

Increase financing for high-quality early learning services. Ensure that there are sufficient resources to make high-quality early childhood education universally accessible. Every setting should have the resources it requires to meet the needs of its children and families. This includes ensuring equitable access to high-quality higher education and compensation for a qualified workforce. See the NASEM report Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education for more details.

Include community-based programs and family child care homes in state funding systems for early childhood education. Ensure that these systems equitably support community-based programs and engage community members and families in activist and leadership roles. Support the educators who work in community-based programs so they can meet high-quality standards while allowing families to choose the best setting for their needs.

Ensure sufficient funding for, access to, and supports for children, teachers, and administrators to respond to children’s behaviors that others find challenging. Mental health supports and prevention-oriented interventions can help meet each child’s needs, including mental health challenges, without stigmatization, and eliminate the use of suspensions and expulsions across all early childhood settings [NAEYC, “Recommendations for Public Policymakers,” retrieved 2020.01.03].

In her May 1, 2019, interview with South Dakota Public Radio, Castleberry noted that SDAEYC worked with Rep. Erin Healy to on 2019 House Bill 1175, which sought to create an Early Learning Advisory Council. Castleberry said that opponents invoked their fears of universal preschool to defeat that bill. Castleberry emphasized that universal preschool was not the aim of HB 1175. Castleberry avoided speaking directly or specifically in favor of expanding state investment in preschool education.

At the very least, thanks to Governor Noem, I hope Rep. Healy has gained an ally in the Senate for her promised second try at creating a statewide preschool advisory council.

Related Education: Castleberry also digs yoga. In a 2015 video demonstrating yoga for preschoolers, Castleberry noted that yoga “has many proven benefits for preschool aged children” and “can relieve stress, improve health and circulation, and get the ‘winter wiggles out’ for students and teachers!”

Perhaps Castleberry could do her Senate colleagues some good by leading them in a little yoga during caucus! Sunrise up! Reach, like you’re reaching for the clouds….

See also part 2 of “Yoga in the Preschool Classroom”—arms up for the mountain, bend for the moon…:


  1. Donald Pay 2020-01-03 10:00

    Well, let’s just say Noem selected a far better Senator than the District 35 voters elected. The issue of universal preschool is difficult. If you can’t pay for K-12, how are you going to pay for a few extra years of schooling? There are ways to deliver good early education without disrupting various day care options.

    The big issue with K-12 and pre-K is revenue and tax fairness. When you refuse to tax the wealthy, you condemn your children to a life of stupidity.

  2. Debbo 2020-01-03 17:52

    There’s some hope for this one, even though I assume she’s a Republican. Castleberry doesn’t seem to be an SDGOP type. I suppose they’ll force her to sign the pledge to them, superseding the oath of office to SD.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-01-03 20:34

    Debbo, I keep waiting for the fundagelical connection to pop up. It didn’t take much for Noem to give District 35 an upgrade.

  4. Kurt Evans 2020-01-04 13:01

    In a few more years we may have government agents waiting in the delivery room to give the newborn a name like “FN-2187” and shuttle him off to stormtrooper training school to be indoctrinated in Hindu-Buddhist occultism without his mother ever laying eyes on him.

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