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Looking ahead for young learners

Published (3/28/2008)
By Courtney Blanchard
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Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood) has big plans for the early childhood learning programs.

If the House Early Childhood Learning Finance Division chairwoman gets her way, by 2016, 75 percent of Minnesota’s incoming kindergarteners will be fully prepared for school, Slawik said.

The target would help to close the achievement gap for incoming students, and by doing so, save costs for the K-12 education system and the juvenile justice system, she said.

The first step to achieving the goal is an early childhood education advisory board, which is supported by the governor, Slawik said. After that, the goal could come to fruition in several ways:

• a “4-year-old At-Risk” program, which would provide funding for high-quality preschool for low-income preschoolers;

• a universal preschool program;

• integrating social services into the school system for parents and children; and

• an “age 3 to grade 3” program, where students would be in close contact with the same teacher for the first several years of schooling. The teacher would monitor progress and form a close relationship with the child.

She hopes the issue could be taken up next session, but the goal is set for the year 2016 because it could take three biennia to complete.

The division received a zero budget cut target and won’t meet again this session, she said. While avoiding cuts is a good thing in the midst of a deficit year, Slawik said she had hoped to tackle waiting lists for state child care and the Head Start program.

“What we would want is to serve more families,” she said.

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