Will Universal Pre-K be on Special Session Agenda?

Governor Mark Dayton and Lt. Governor Tina Smith were joined today by Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius to announce that beginning this fall, 3,302 four-year-olds in 74 Minnesota school districts and charter schools will attend voluntary pre-kindergarten, free of charge, but not everyone is impressed by these numbers.

In a press release sent out by Dayton’s office, it states that Minnesota’s pre-kindergarten expansion was made possible by a new $25 million investment secured this session.  The press release goes on to state that “additional state funding is needed to ensure all Minnesota four-year-olds gain access to free, voluntary pre-kindergarten” explaining,  “In total, 183 school districts and charter schools applied for pre-kindergarten funding this year. But due to a lack of funding, nearly 60 percent of those districts did not receive state aid. Had additional state funding been available, 10,139 children in those 183 districts and charter schools that applied would have been enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs this year.”

“Minnesota schools and families want voluntary pre-kindergarten, and our children need it to succeed,” said Governor Dayton. “But without additional funding, thousands of kids will be denied the educational opportunities they need to achieve their greatest potentials. Lt. Governor Smith and I will keep fighting until every Minnesota family has the choice to send their child to preschool.”

Another Democratic lawmaker is echoing Dayton’s call for additional Pre-K funding, Deputy Minority Leader Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL – St. Paul), who released the following statement:

“While I’m thrilled for the communities that will be receiving money from the program, I’m frustrated for those that didn’t. The announcements are cause for real celebration in some parts of Minnesota. But too many districts and parents in the schools that didn’t receive awards remain in wait and will continue to bear the high cost of childcare and Pre-K for their kids in pursuit of their best future. That is not right.”

Murphy is calling for the state surplus to go towards universal Pre-K, stating, “With a large budget surplus, those communities would have benefited from an honest discussion about the need for the universal ‘Minne-K’ bill I authored with Sen. Katie Sieben. Instead the conversation was only around how to begin a small piece of that work.”

State Representative Steve Drazkowski (R – Mazeppa) says “It’s the responsibility of families to raise children, not government.”  Drazkowski goes on to say not all Minnesotans want this, explaining, “While Mark Dayton and some liberal legislators want to back the school bus up to the maternity ward room door, Minnesotans everywhere know that government makes a very bad parent.  We cannot afford the skyrocketing property taxes or the huge social costs that will result from their bad parenting plan.” Drazkowski says at least half of his caucus members support his position.  

Dayton and Murphy’s press releases were sent out a week before a possible special session, as several sources have said there has been discussion on hosting a special session the third week in August.  Other special session goals that have been discussed include fixing a tax relief bill, passing a bonding bill, and as stated in a press release sent out by House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Thissen, “take steps to rebuild trust between police and the community.”  Governor Dayton plans to meet with legislative leaders this Friday.  

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Julia Erynn