PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A statewide study of preschool gaps is planned for South Dakota. That’s what Republican Governor Kristi Noem’s secretary of education told state lawmakers Tuesday.

“This will be a full and comprehensive study,” Tiffany Sanderson said.

This comes three years after a Republican-dominated legislative committee rejected a Democrat lawmaker’s proposal for an early learning council.

Sanderson’s comments Tuesday came as she opposed legislation seeking $1 million from the Legislature as a matching grant for a nonprofit program that serves children the year before they start kindergarten.

Waterford Upstart has focused on rural and impoverished children. The Utah Legislature started the program in 2009. It’s spread delivery of online services to other states with the help of federal funding, including 360 families in South Dakota last year and more than 300 this year.

Sanderson said the state Department of Education doesn’t have the staff to manage it and can’t continue it. “This is one of those good ideas we have to say ‘no’ to for now,” she told the Senate Education Committee.

The availability of the Waterford grant is “a year too soon,” according to Sanderson.

Senator Ryan Maher, R-Isabel, sponsored the request for $1 million in SB 194. He told the committee that Waterford’s services in South Dakota would otherwise end this summer.

Jason Glodt, a lobbyist for Waterford, said in rebuttal to Sanderson that the request was “a million-dollar challenge.” Regarding her announcement that her department is doing the study, Glodt said, “This proposal would help bridge that gap.”

Senator Wayne Steinhauer, R-Hartford, asked what would happen if the state department received legislative authority to proceed on the program but selected another provider.

Waterford official Beth Plewa said the source of the nonprofit’s grant for South Dakota likely wouldn’t provide the funding.

Steinhauer later proposed sending the legislation to the Joint Appropriations Committee but with no recommendation, saying he had “concerns” about the funding.

Senate Democrat leader Troy Heinert of Mission said it was “embarrassing” that South Dakota doesn’t provide state funding for early childhood education. “I think we’re a day late and a dollar short,” he said.

Senator Jim Bolin, R-Canton, suggested the legislation probably should be killed altogether. Bolin, a retired educator, said the effectiveness of distance learning was questionable. “I don’t know if it’s investing or not,” he said.