ST. PAUL, MN – Minnesota could be among the first states in the country to offer free, full-day early learning programs for every four-year-old – if a proposal from Governor Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Senate becomes law this session. If passed, the proposal would allow an estimated 47,300 students to attend preschool in the program’s first year of operation. View this news release on the Governor’s website.
Within just a few years, the Department of Education predicts that number would grow to roughly 57,000 four-year-olds statewide – giving every kid the great start they need to prepare for kindergarten, and succeed in school and life.
“We have already seen the tremendous successes of all-day kindergarten, which got underway just this year,” said Governor Dayton in a news release issued by his office on Friday. “But we have a lot more work to do to narrow Minnesota’s achievement gap, and provide excellent educations for every student in Minnesota. That work has to start now, and it must begin with our youngest learners.”
In their push to provide universal access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, Governor Dayton, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, and area legislators today visited a preschool classroom at Newport Elementary School. The Governor, Senator Katie Sieben, Representative Dan Schoen, and Senator Susan Kent spent time with preschool students, teachers, and parents, seeing firsthand the impact that high-quality early learning programs have in preparing young learners for success in school and life.
“South Washington County has proven that investing in four-year-olds yields great results,” said Senator Katie Sieben. “I appreciate Governor Dayton’s tremendous leadership on four-year-old preschool. Because of his vision, all families in Minnesota will be able to send their kids to preschool. Now we need the Legislature to act and follow through on the Governor’s vision of universal preschool.”
Participation in high-quality pre-kindergarten education programs can dramatically impact the lives of Minnesota children. But right now, Minnesota ranks 50th in the nation for access to all-day pre-kindergarten learning. For years, Minnesota has faced persistent achievement gaps between white students and students of color, and students who live in poverty. But a growing body of research shows that giving kids a great early start is the best strategy to close those gaps, and help all students achieve their greatest potential.
Studies have shown that early learning programs have impressive and long-lasting benefits for low-income students, including increased high school graduation and employment rates, and decreased incarceration rates. Leading researchers and economists have found that these outcomes yield long-term benefits of as much as $16 for every $1 invested in early learning programs. Most of those cost savings are in education, human services, and justice system savings, as well as increased tax revenues.
“Our tour of Newport Elementary highlights that preschool in the elementary school system has been enthusiastically embraced by students and families,” said Senator Susan Kent. “We know that when a child is kindergarten-ready they are more successful in their later school experience. If Minnesota is going to continue to be a national leader in educational attainment, we need to ensure that preschool is available across the state. Unfortunately the current early learning systems are fragmented which is why we need to bring universal, voluntary preschool for four-year-olds into our public system to benefit our youngest learners and families regardless of income.”
Minnesota is already on its way to narrowing achievement gaps, thanks to new investments made over the last four years in early learning and all-day kindergarten. In fact, early learning scholarships funded by the Governor and Legislature have already provided more than 9,000 early learners access to preschool statewide. Those scholarships are helping students achieve their greatest potential. Continuing the state’s investment in scholarships this session, while providing universal access for all four-year-olds, would help ensure more at-risk children can access high-quality preschool opportunities even earlier.
“The governor’s commitment to getting our students off to a strong start has been unwavering,” said Commissioner Cassellius. “By providing universal access to pre-kindergarten, we will build on the progress of the last four years, and level the playing field for all students. This is an incredible opportunity to ensure all kids come to school ready to learn, and a critical step if we want to eliminate achievement gaps in Minnesota.”
Sending every four-year-old to preschool would not only give our kids a great start; it would help families too. It would put thousands of dollars back in families’ pockets every year. Parents would no longer have to pay out-of-pocket for preschool, and they would be able to avoid the high costs of child care while their children attend full-day preschool programs. Right now, Minnesota is the third-most expensive state in the nation for child care. On average, child care for one four-year-old in Minnesota costs $901 per month, or $10,812 per year. Helping parents avoid those costs, while ensuring kids are receiving high-quality learning opportunities all day long, is an investment that will pay off for tens of thousands of Minnesota families, and produce better results for our students.
“Early childhood education is the best investment we can make in Minnesota’s future,” said Representative Dan Schoen. “Last session we funded all-day kindergarten. Let’s continue to show our commitment to education by providing an opportunity for every four year old in Minnesota to attend free, all-day pre-kindergarten.”