We are working toward a special session to resolve the governor’s veto of three major budget bills. Despite overwhelming bipartisan support by the Senate’s DFL majority and the House’s GOP majority for the K-12 education, the agriculture/environmental/natural resources, and the jobs and energy finance bills, the governor vetoed all three of them.
In this update I will focus on the bi-partisan education bill (HF 844). Despite bipartisan legislative agreement within the Legislature, the governor insists it has to be his way or no way on the pre-kindergarten issue.
Legislators, myself included, spent the past five months listening to advice on whether adding universal pre-kindergarten to the public school system is the best solution for our 4-year-olds. Those discussions included professional educators, school superintendents, principals and teachers, parents, grandparents, daycare providers and others.
I can’t speak for the other 122 (63 percent) legislators that passed the largest comprehensive education finance bill in Minnesota’s history that would spend over $17 billion on education. However, I will share the advice I received from the citizens and education professionals within Aitkin and Crow Wing counties.
The overwhelming message cautioned that implementing universal public school pre-kindergarten for all 4-years-olds was not the best way to resolve the education achievement gap that many disadvantaged students experience. There is agreement we need more attention in this area, however that did not include adding a 14th grade level consisting of 4-year-olds in the public school system.
Public and charter school professionals, private sector daycare providers and parents see a critical need to identify and assist individual pre-kindergarten children that are behind in development. However, the assumption that all 4-year-olds are not ready and should be put into universal public school pre-kindergarten was not considered a reasonable solution.
Recognizing that educational funding is not unlimited, adding a 14th grade level would likely create funding issues within the other 13 grade levels students must currently complete to receive a high school diploma.
From an infrastructure standpoint of the six major school districts that serve our area, only one has unused classroom space available to absorb adding a 14th grade level. The other districts would face an immediate space issue to accommodate pre-kindergarten. All districts would have to reconfigure transportation requirements and hire additional specialized teachers licensed to teach 4-year-olds.
Those are just a few of the reasons why I continue to support the current education bill which does include targeted funding that identifies and reaches out to pre-kindergarten children that need assistance most.
The governor continues to bargain for universal public school pre-kindergarten. Maybe others can influence him to accept a more measured approach. Gov. Dayton’s communications office phone number is (651) 201-3400, you can also email him at http://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/form/. Good Luck!