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Disney’s seemingly ubiquitous character Elsa, star of the animated movie "Frozen," made an appearance on the state Capitol steps Friday.

But instead of singing “Let it Go,” she was calling out “Let them learn,” a rally cry supporting Gov. Steve Bullock’s Early Edge Montana initiative, which would provide public funding for 4-year-olds to attend preschool.

“To see early childhood education move to the forefront of our priorities is a great thing,” said Elke Govertsen, the founder and editor of Mamalode, who was dressed as Elsa.

Mamalode, a Missoula-based digital and print magazine for mothers, partnered with a new nonprofit coalition called Early Edge Action to organize the rally on the Capitol steps. More than 100 people moved through the event that included balloon animals and snacks for young kids and talks from Bullock, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, a preschool provider, a mom and Early Edge Action Chairman Niles Hushka.

“We really do have no greater responsibility than our responsibility to the next generation,” Bullock said.

He pointed to the 42 other states with publicly funded preschool and noted that some of them are highly Republican. Bullock said research shows students who attend preschool are less likely to drop out before graduating high school, become teen parents or end up in prison.

Bullock has received criticism for his two-year, $37 million plan, which would provide half-day voluntary preschool for up to half of Montana 4-year-olds.

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Bullock’s response on Friday was that the state can’t afford not to spend that money because a budget is a reflection of the state’s values. Taxpayers could rest easy knowing their money was spent on quality education because of the rules adopted by the Board of Public Education, Bullock said.

Juneau said Early Edge would provide an opportunity for families who don’t have the ability to pay for their children to receive a quality education at a young age.

Helena resident Mary DuVernay attended the rally with her 3-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter.

DuVernay said both her children are in an affordable, quality preschool program that she was “lucky” to find, but she knows not everyone has that option.

“I think early education is really important in terms of childhood development and putting our kids on equal footing,” she said.

Kristal Burns, a child care provider at Missoula Community School, said she knows first-hand that the cost of child care can be equivalent to a second home mortgage for some people.

“This is something I’ve personally felt is long overdue,” Burns said.

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Alexander Deedy can be reached at 447-4081 or alexander.deedy@helenair.com

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