By Vernae Hasbargen, MREA Lobbyist
When the chairs of the Senate and House K-12 committees met with the MREA Board recently, they agreed that fully funded Kindergarten for every student was their top priority. This week they put their words into action.
In the House
House Chair Paul Marquart heard several bills that add to the Governor’s proposed budget and increase the number of children funded from 85% to 100%. Currently 54% of children statewise are in all day, 29% in half day, and 17% in fee-based programs. The number of Greater Minnesota students in all day K is 64%.
Witnesses pointed to concrete data from districts like Mankato and Lake Superior Schools. Their programs not only help students perform better in first grade, but also significantly close the learning gap at fifth grade because of increased reading comprehension. It is estimated that half the children in poverty are not ready for kindergarten because they enter school with much smaller vocabularies.
Marquart, a social studies teacher from Dilworth, repeatedly says he wants to focus on creating” the world’s best workforce” and to do so; the state must close our learning gap, which is among the highest in the nation.
Earlier State Economist Tom Stinson told Marquart’s committee that Minnesota was “diluting the quality of its workforce” because it is not growing and the new workers entering are, in larger numbers than the worker they are replacing, not high school graduates.
One of the problems of All Day K Marquart has yet to tackle is creating more options for helping districts expand their facilities since space limitations are among the primary reasons the program isn’t offered. Expect him to look more closely at the Lease Levy because currently only one third of the statewide capacity is used even though some districts are at the $150 per pupil limit.
In the Senate
Senator Wiger, chair of the K-12 Division, is not new to this issue, having been in the legislature since 1996 and before that serving on the White Bear Lake School Board.
When he first came to the legislature, Wiger chaired a subcommittee that focused on facilities and determined that the deferred maintenance on Minnesota’s aged school buildings is $3 billion. Look for him to dive into facility funding as well.
Wiger is also focused on the end game and has as one of his top priorities moving the compulsory attendance law from 16 to 18. What is the best strategy to increase graduation and academic success? All day K.