Dems push to fund all-day kindergarten

State budget will control how much ISD 831 pays out of own pocket


Sen. Tom Bakk told the ECM Editorial Board last week of plans to push for statewide, full funding for all-day kindergarten. (ECM file photo)
Sen. Tom Bakk told the ECM Editorial Board last week of plans to push for statewide, full funding for all-day kindergarten. (ECM file photo)

Cliff Buchan
Staff Writer

If Forest Lake School District 831 gets financial help from the state of Minnesota to pay for its new all-day kindergarten program this fall, a state senator from northern Minnesota may be one legislator to thank.

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, the Senate majority leader, told the ECM Editorial Board last Friday that he will push for full funding of all-day kindergarten in the state. That comes months after the Forest Lake School Board took action to move to an all-day, every-day kindergarten program at an estimated cost of $500,000 that will be funded through existing revenues.

The majority leader said last Friday he plans to push for more funding in Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal.

The DFL-controlled House has yet to release its budget proposal, but Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and House Majority Leader Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, also told the editorial board they are supportive. Revenue availability would ultimately determine the level of state support, the leaders said.

Sen. Bakk said he would support reallocating dollars within Gov. Dayton’s E-12 proposal to fund all-day kindergarten.

“We know it’s a good investment,” Sen. Bakk said.

Officials in the Forest Lake district are on the same page and have opted to fund the full-day program. The district officers an all-day program now at a cost of $2500 a year for parents. Lower costs are available for parents that qualify under free and reduced guidelines.

The revised budget released by Gov. Dayton last week allocates $344 million for E-12 education. That includes $40 million for all-day kindergarten to help districts offer the program at no cost to parents.

The majority leader said he will seek full funding, a figure that could approach $170 million. Under his proposal, districts would not be mandated to immediately offer all-day kindergarten. They would be granted time to develop the program and provide any necessary facilities to house such a program, he said.

He said his goal was to level the playing field for a program offering that most believe is beneficial to kids in their first year of school. About half of the districts in the state offer some form of all-day kindergarten, but many require parents to pay for the program. Those costs are running as high as $4100 a year per student, he said.

“There are school districts that are doing it,” he said, “but parents are paying for it.”

The majority leader said he was pleased with the governor’s proposal to pump some $44 million to early childhood education scholarships that will help some 10,000 more children attend high quality child care and preschool programs.

Gov. Dayton’s budget proposal increases E-12 education funding by an average of $72 per student in fiscal year 2014 and an average $339 increase per student in fiscal year 2015 through these investments.

The proposed $40 million in funding to support all-day kindergarten programs would increase the current per pupil funding support of .5 for half-day programs and .6 for all-day programs to a new weighted per pupil funding total of .7.

Sen. Bakk’s proposal for all-day kindergarten received a lukewarm reception from Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. Senate Minority Leader Hann said he saw the proposal as another move to shift funding responsibilities from the local level to the state. The senator said he has seen no evidence that the all-day program is any better than a half-day program.

House Minority Leader Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Deputy Minority Leader Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, both told the editorial board they see value in early education but said funding levels would involve a difficult balancing act to determine where state dollars actually go.