House Speaker Kurt Daudt, in the middle of negotiations with Gov. Mark Dayton over how to deliver preschool to Minnesota kids, visited a St. Paul daycare center with early-learning expert Art Rolnick, advocating for more funding for early-learning scholarships.
Daudt, the Crown Republican, said members of his caucus prefer spending more on scholarships, or vouchers, that parents can use both at private daycare providers or at public schools. About half of Twin Cities parents use scholarships at public schools, the Minnesota Department of Education said.
Gov. Mark Dayton last week vetoed a $17 billion education budget bill the Legislature approved, in part because his priority of universal access to preschool received no funding from lawmakers. Legislators will be called back to St. Paul for a special session in the coming weeks to address three vetoed budget bills, including education.
"What the governor and I agree on is we want to close the achievement gap," Daudt told reporters after visiting with preschoolers. "We have a little difference of opinion on how to achieve that but I think Minnesota deserves to have a great debate like this."
Dayton has proposed universal preschool, as well as funding early-learning scholarships. Legislators however said the price tag of universal preschool was too high. Dayton had originally called for about $340 million for the proposal but has since scaled back the amount to $100 million. That would allow the state to phase in half-day universal preschool.
Rolnick, a former senior vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and leading expert on the benefits of early childhood education, said the state should invest more in scholarships. He argues that it's more cost effective and would do more to close the state's glaring achievement gap between white and minority students.
Daudt, Dayton, Rolnick and other education officials are set to resume budget negotiations Thursday afternoon.