An advocacy coalition called on the Legislature to help solve the state's achievement gap in education by paying for pre-school for 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families.
At an event in the state Capitol, legislators who chair education-funding committees in the DFL-controlled House and Senate expressed support for the idea.
"Let's do it right -- let's do it now," Rep. Paul Marquart,DFL-Dilworth, who chairs the House Education Finance Committee. "Let's do it for the state of Minnesota's future."
Marquart was joined by Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, who chairs the Senate's E-12 Finance Division. He said he is concerned about the high number of students who arrive at kindergarten unprepared to start learning. "We must reverse that," he said.
The coalition, known as Minneminds, said it would cost $150 million per year to pay for good preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families once the program is fully phased in. That amount would cover more than 20,000 children, the group said.The coalition includes foundations, child-care and education groups, preschool education organizations and other nonprofit groups.
Supporters introduced their plan in the rotunda, where a series of school desks had been set up, some of them vacant. The vacant desks had signs such as "Kids that Start Behind Never Catch Up." The group argued that spending on early-childhood education for needy children will help erase the achievement gap that separates white and minority students.
Marquart said his committee will be interested in education improvements that have proven results, and he puts early-childhood education in that category. He said it's not clear how much will be available to spend, considering that the state faces a deficit and an existing debt to schools.
"This certainly is going to be a high priority in the House Education Committee," he said.