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Schools, governor push to make preschool funding permanent

April 12, 2018
Solvejg Wastvedt
MPR News

School officials say they may have to cut preschool classes if lawmakers do not extend state funds awarded last year.

The $50 million sum approved at the end of last legislative session allowed 59 school districts and charter schools around the state to expand free preschool offerings. State officials estimated the funds will pay for 4,000 children per year to attend the classes.

Gov. Mark Dayton¬†wants lawmakers to make the funds permanent this year using part of Minnesota’s $329 million budget surplus. Dayton has also proposed increasing the funds by five percent per year.

“It shouldn’t be so hard to provide high-quality education to children who need it, will benefit from it and do better for the rest of their lives because of it,” Dayton said at a recent press conference.

In the Robbinsdale Area School District, families have already filled most of next year’s spaces in the new program, early childhood programs director Monica Potter said.

Robbinsdale received $1,887,982 this year to fund about 360 preschoolers.

Parent Laura Dumont said she made a “hasty” change of plans when she found out about the new five-day-a-week, free preschool classes Robbinsdale added with the money. Dumont enrolled her twin sons in one of the classes and said it was the right choice.

“They have learned their numbers, their letters, they’re writing words already,” Dumont said.

If funds are not extended, Potter said Robbinsdale would likely have to cut back its program. Other school district leaders receiving the money said they would also probably have to scale back.

Still, despite Dayton’s urgent calls, those cuts to school preschool programs would not occur until after next school year, when the funds expire.