Early Childhood

Minnesota Budget: More for Early Ed., Not Enough for Universal Pre-K

By Lillian Mongeau — June 17, 2015 2 min read
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The final budget bill agreed to by Minnesota lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton after months of haggling contains $95 million in new funding for early-childhood education in the fiscal 2016-17 biennium. That’s less in additional funding than Dayton was pushing for originally, but more than was in the budget the legislature first agreed to in May.

“While universal pre-K did not come to fruition this session, both Gov. Dayton and Commissioner [Brenda] Cassellius have stated that they will continue to talk about the benefits of this program and revisit the proposal in future legislative sessions,” Charlene Briner, chief of staff for the Minnesota Department of Education, wrote in an email.

As Andrew Ujifusa has reported over at the State EdWatch blog, Minnesota lawmakers had trouble coming up with an education budget that Gov. Dayton was willing to sign. Dayton vetoed the legislature’s first proposal, telling them, “I will veto a $400 million bill that leaves a billion dollars on the bottom line while denying $171 million for universal pre-K for 4 year olds— I mean it is just not acceptable.”

The entire budget process stalled out as a result of the governor’s veto, and the legislature only concluded its special session on June 13 with a final budget that Dayton has agreed to sign.

Despite the theatrics, Dayton’s universal prekindergarten proposal did not become part of the final budget compromise. Lawmakers instead chose to pursue a $48 million expansion of the state’s early-learning scholarships for children from low-income families, for a total of $104 million earmarked for that program. That’s about four times the $28 million available for the program in the fiscal 2014-15 biennium budget according to a MinnPost story.

The final budget also included $30 million in additional funding for School Readiness, a program school districts can use to provide early-education classes, and an additional $10 million in Head Start funding, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. The grand total for early education in the new biennium budget is about $279 million, $77 million less than the governor originally proposed.

For some early education advocates, the increases in the new budget are plenty. Karen Cadigan, the founding director of the Minnesota Office of Early Learning and the current early-childhood education specialist in the Bloomington and Richfield public schools, told MinnPost in March that the governor’s half-day universal preschool proposal was a “terrible idea.” She sees the current budget, which targets new funding to the state’s lowest-income families, as a fair compromise.

“Access doesn’t have to mean that taxpayer money pays for every single child, but we should be sure that both parents’ own dollars and the public investment goes to quality,” Cadigan said by email.

Next year, she hopes that early-education leaders who “were at odds with each other this session [will] sit down and talk about how we move ahead, together, before any one person or group starts thinking about what they want to have happen next.”

Correction: A few line items in this year’s Minnesota education budget have, in previous years, appeared in the state Department of Human Services budget. Those line items have now been included in the corrected totals for early-learning scholarships and for early education overall.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.