This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week, a time to thank and show gratitude to our educators who help shape our children’s lives and futures. Our teachers are endless advocates for our children; they need the best tools possible in the classroom to help our kids succeed. This Capitol update focuses on the Republican Legislature’s final education budget proposals.
Getting our children off to the best possible start in life is an investment in our future and an opportunity every family deserves. Providing adequate funding for school districts to offer voluntary pre-kindergarten to Minnesota four-year-olds ought to be a priority. Unfortunately, the House Republican proposal denies young learners access to quality pre-k in communities across our state by eliminating the successful voluntary pre-k program.
In contrast, Governor Dayton’s plan would provide opportunities to more than 17,000 four-year-olds in more than 260 school districts. Thanks to last year’s funding, 3,300 kids are already learning in voluntary pre-k and the program has been applauded by district officials around the state. Quality pre-k is a key component in closing opportunity and achievement gaps; we owe it to our kids and our state’s future to make these key investments.
The Osseo Area Schools was the largest recipient of voluntary pre-kindergarten funding with 260 students. There are already 198 students registered for the fall of 2017. It is clear that we must continue and expand the voluntary pre-kindergarten program in Minnesota.
Despite a budget surplus, Minnesota Republicans are choosing to underfund our schools. Teachers- the experts in our classrooms- have testified that a modest 2% funding increase is needed just to stay afloat with costs of inflation and student growth, yet Republicans are choosing to underfund our schools and forcing cuts in the classroom. I’ve already heard from our local schools that the Republican education proposals would aggravate a budget shortfall. Education has made Minnesota a leader, but we won’t continue to lead by providing big tax breaks for the wealthy and corporate special interests. Instead, providing all Minnesota children a quality education ought to be our top priority.
Now is the time to stand up for education. House Democrats are working toward a compromise budget in the next two weeks, but will not stand for policies that move the state backward and hurt Minnesotans. Your voice can help. To share your thoughts about these education bills, you can call House Speaker Daudt orHouse Education Finance Chair Jen Loon.
Please contact me with any questions. I will continue to fight to fully fund our schools.
Michael V. Nelson