The Minnesota Legislature finished a special session this week, agreeing to a $79 million spending boost for early childhood education that is intended to expand preschool access across the state. Governor Mark Dayton supported the session, stating that the establishment of additional preschool resources was the top priority of his final years in office.
However, the compromise on the budgeting is just the beginning of the changes in Minnesota’s preschool programming. Governor Dayton and Lt. Governor Tina Smith have visited dozens of preschools this last year in an effort to better understand their needs as they begin the process of allocating the newly approved funding.
Furthermore, Governor Dayton is pushing lawmakers to pass even more funding for preschools if they expect him to support any more legislation in the lead up to the 2016 election. He is putting considerable political pressure on his colleagues in an effort to fully support Minnesota preschools.
“I’ll make it a requirement for getting my support for certain things that legislators want, like tax cuts,” said Dayton in September as the school year was just beginning.
Dayton’s push is meant to address gaps between poor minority students and their white and more affluent classmates. His stance has developed slowly over the past several years. At first, he advocated for a universal preschool system. However, belief that it would harm private preschools and actually reduce the number of classrooms along with being beyond Minnesota’s budgetary restraints has led Dayton to advocate a more mixed approach that would fund scholarships and add a significant number of additional classrooms to publicly funded preschools.
Implementing the scholarships will be the most crucial part of the preschool program. Ensuring that kids whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to preschool will be provided for while simultaneously not spending unnecessary funds on kids whose parents can foot the bill is a delicate balancing act. Governor Dayton and the Legislature will have their work cut out for them in the months to come, but it is promising to see that both Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature have given the issue their full attention.