Free all-day kindergarten appears to be a winner in this year's legislative session.
DFL education leaders in the Senate unveiled their education plan Thursday, which called for $130 million in additional spending to allow all districts to provide all-day kindergarten. Currently, all-day K is available to about two-thirds of all students, but some parents have to pay a fee.
"We should not base going to kindergarten on your zip code or on what you can afford," said Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, chair of the Senate's E-12 Funding Division.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL leaders of the House also support funding for free all-day kindergarten, and the only question appears to be whether there will be enough money to extend it statewide.
Under the Senate bill, all-day-K would be optional for both districts and parents.
The Senate bill also includes:
-- A $100 million increase in basic classroom education.
-- $44 million to help lower-income families attend early-childhood programs.
-- Changes in the state's testing system for students.
-- An additional $9 million for special education.
Wiger and other leaders said they would provide property tax relief by replacing some locally-raised education money with state revenues. They said funding for integration would be contingent on how well districts do in helping targeted students.
Wiger said the bill raises the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 17 as a way of keeping high-schoolers from dropping out. He said Minnesota's 16-year-old limit was "tied for the lowest in America," and the state's high school graduation rate has slipped from the top to the middle of the pack among the states.