Preschool Should Have Legislature’s Support
Preschool Should Have Legislature’s Support
by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News
“The first five years of a child’s life are fundamentally important. They are the foundation that shapes children’s future health, happiness, growth, development and learning achievement at school, in the family and community, and in life in general. Children learn more quickly during their early years than at any other time in life.”
Those words from the World Health Organization pretty much sum up the critical importance of early childhood learning. We also know that good nutrition is essential to child development and learning. We know that a nurturing environment determines how a child develops and learns.
Society pays a price far beyond the cost of an education when a child lacks good nutrition, early childhood education and a nurturing environment. For too many children, the best meal they get each day is in school. The safest environment, the one with the most encouragement and support, is in the school.
That is why providing early childhood education for Minnesota’s preschoolers is essential. Unfortunately, not everyone in a position of leadership that will determine how much Minnesota spends on early childhood education agrees.
Governor Mark Dayton is proposing that the state use some of its $1.65 billion surplus to provide $175 million to expand preschool programs in Minnesota. Last year, Dayton fought to get $25 million approved.
When the state approved additional funding for pre-school last year Benson Public Schools was one of the lucky districts to get funding – barely. Benson ranked 71st among the 74 school districts and charter schools that were selected to share limited state funding for preschool aimed at improving early childhood education in impoverished school districts. The school district received $103,938 to offer free preschool for all four-year-olds in the district.
Without the funding, the district could not accommodate all the four-year-olds whose parents wanted to see their children enrolled in preschool. Further, the cost of sending their children to preschool was a hardship for some families. The new funding pays for teachers and made preschool free.
But nearly 60 percent of the school districts that applied for the funding were rejected. That high number of rejections highlighted the need to increase funding, Dayton says. The $25 million annual budget set aside last year only lasts as long as the Legislature is willing to fund it – which might not be long if the Republicans who control the House have their way.
The state House has approved legislation that would eliminate funding for early childhood education. The Senate bill keeps it at its current $25 million level. We find the Republican stand on early childhood funding appalling. But they are focused on making huge tax cuts rather than investing in the state’s children.
Republican Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, says taxpayers must come first when deciding what to do with the state’s budget surplus. “They are the ones who created this surplus. We want to make sure Minnesotans share in the prosperity here in the state. We think it’s the best thing to do with the money they provided us is reinvest it back in Minnesotans.” However, those Minnesotans don’t include the state’s youngest children.
House Republicans want to see the vast majority of the surplus to go toward a $1.35 billion tax relief bill. Senate Republicans are looking at around $900 million in tax relief. Dayton is looking at about $300 million in tax relief and wants to set aside another $200 million in a reserve. He has said that he fears President Trump and congressional Republicans could pass health insurance measures that cut in excess of $1.5 billion from Minnesota’s Medicaid health care program over the next two years.
“There’s no question if the kinds of drastic reductions that the Trump administration is proposing are enacted ... it’s going to have a devastating effect on Minnesota’s budget,” Dayton told Minnesota Public Radio. “That’s all the more reason why we need to hold onto the reserve and have a savings account to protect ourselves as best as possible.”
Dayton sees the Republicans using cuts in early childhood education as a bargaining chip to get what they want in tax cuts because they know how important preschool education is to him.
“It looks like the House Republicans intend to use pre-kindergarten funding as a bargaining chip in the upcoming budget negotiations,” Dayton said. “It is appalling that the best interests of Minnesota 4-year-olds are being used as a political bargaining chip by House Republicans.”
Rural Minnesota faces a shortage of childcare facilities. Early childhood education programs in our schools help meet that shortage. How any rural Republican can support a budget that cuts funding for preschool classes is something we find hard to understand.
Governor Dayton’s plan for preschool funding in Minnesota deserves the full support of Republican District 17A Rep. Tim Miller and District 17 Sen. Andrew Lang.