By Esme Murphy

ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Since 2005 St. Paul has been one of the few public schools in the state to offer a pre-K program.

READ MORE: Next Weather: Dry Start In Twin Cities, Showers Later On

Aimed at low-income students, it has dramatically increased kindergarten readiness and is proving it’s an example of what is working in our schools.

The program teaches children the basics — early reading, math skills and following directions.

Ninety percent of the kids know the alphabet by the end of the school year.

“They are learning how to write their name,” teacher Weston Musachio said. “They are learning how to count, recognizing letters and recognizing letter sounds.”

The program currently serves 1,100 kids — 700 kids are on the waiting list. Administrators say that waiting list could get a whole lot bigger if St. Paul voters do not pass a referendum on the November ballot.

READ MORE: Body Found In Mississippi River In Anoka Identified

“If the referendum doesn’t pass, we will have significantly less services to offer the district,” Lisa Gruenewald, supervisor of Early Childhood Education in the St. Paul Public Schools said.

An existing referendum, which is set to expire currently, funds 80 percent of the pre-K program.

While the kids are enthusiastic, no one likes the program more than kindergarten teachers.

“A kindergarten teacher said to me last week I’d give you a million dollars if all of my kids could go through your program,” Gruenewald said. “So they are seeing a difference.”

The referendum before St. Paul voters would provide $39 million for St. Paul schools.

MORE NEWS: Next Drive: Highway 36 Reopens In Roseville After Serious Crash

Thirty million of that would continue funding for a referendum that is set to expire.

Esme Murphy