A State Shutdown Over Pre-K Funding?

Governor Dayton said he will not sign off on any education funding that does not include Pre-K expansion

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is gearing up for a fight with Republicans over Pre-K expansion in Minnesota.

Dayton held a press conference Tuesday to stress his adamance in increasing early education funding to expand voluntary Pre-K programs in the state.

Dayton set the stage for a negotiations battle over the funding, saying he will not sign the Republican proposal as is. “We’ll negotiate something better,” Dayton said.

Dayton is calling for $175 million to spread Pre-K opportunities to 260 school districts.

The House Republican proposal cuts Dayton’s existing Pre-K program funding. The Star Tribune reports the House Education Finance Committee Chairwoman, Rep. Jenifer Loon (R – Eden Prairie), said it’s too expensive to create another grade. Loon believes the funds are better spent on school readiness programs, which are typically targeted towards low-income students.

Senate Republicans kept Dayton’s Pre-K program in their education bill, but did not allocate any funding for its expansion.

Dayton accused Republicans of using Pre-K as a leg-up in negotiations.

“I am appalled that anyone would use the best interests of Minnesota four-year-olds as a political bargaining chip,” Dayton said, “I urge House Republicans to invest in voluntary Pre-K opportunities for our youngest learners this session.”

Lawmakers have been sparring over Dayton’s push for additional Pre-K year after year. Dayton made Pre-K one of his signature issues, and with his time in office nearing its end, Dayton is pushing for Pre-K expansion with renewed vigor.

Dayton said it was too early to tell if they are on track for another stalemate like the one he faced during the 2011 government shutdown.

The House education budget is still being heard in committees and should receive a floor vote soon.

Julia Erynn