Dayton’s updated budget plan includes free preschool

Gov. Mark Dayton’s revised state budget proposal includes free, all-day preschool for the state’s 4 year olds.

If approved the Legislature, Minnesota could become among the first state in the country to provide free preschool.

In the first year it would pay for an estimated 47,300 preschoolers to attend an all-day program and then expand to 57,000 students when fully up and running, according to the governor’s office.

“We have already seen the tremendous successes of all-day kindergarten, which got underway just this year,” Dayton said. “But we have a lot more work to do to narrow Minnesota’s achievement gap, and provide excellent educations for every student in Minnesota. This work has to start now, and it must begin with our youngest learners.”

The state currently ranks 50th in the nation for access to all-day preschool options, according to Dayton’s office. There is wide consensus among experts that increasing high-quality preschool options for all families is one of the best ways to tackle the achievement gap, which has been a persistent and challenging problem in Minnesota. Studies have shown a $16 return for every $1 invested in early learning programs.

Dayton and the Legislature have already approved funding for early learning scholarships for 9,000 preschoolers across the state.

The governor’s supplemental budget plan calls on investing 80 percent of the state’s $1.9 billion surplus in education programs and tax credits for families, among other things.

GOP leaders who control the House, however, are in favor of giving some of the budget surplus back to state taxpayers. Dayton, a DFLer, has to negotiate with the House and DFL-controlled Senate on the state budget.