Governor Mark Dayton would like over one-third of the $1 billion budget surplus the state of Minnesota has to be put toward funding education programs that hope to close the achievement gap.
Dayton is proposing that $372 million be used to expand the state’s early childhood education scholarships, pre-kindergarten and Head Start programs as well as to subsidize school breakfast and increase the per-pupil funding offered to school districts.
The governor believes early childhood education to be one of the most important ways the state can close the existing gaps between students of color. Some believe this gap to the be the worst in the nation.
“We have so many people that are buried under various afflictions in their quality of life,” Dayton said. “And yet the society as a whole does not seem to be responsible for those urgent needs.”
Because not much has been said concerning how the money would be distributed, worries have arisen that the money will end up going toward existing programs that have not resulted in large improvements for the state rather than supporting new approaches.
“There’s no problem that’s being solved,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann. He would like to see a focus placed on measurable goals such as reading comprehension benchmarks and then possibly returning the surplus to the citizens of the state rather than spending it, reports Christopher Magan for TwinCities.com.
Dayton admitted the possibility that not all of his proposals would receive the necessary funding. He asked that instead of arguing over which programs should be funded, supports stand “shoulder to shoulder.”
Meanwhile, early education advocates support the proposal, which comes as a part of the governor’s two-year budget proposal.
“If you don’t engage in education as a student, especially early, it affects your entire life,” said Frank Forsberg, who chairs the executive committee of the education coalition MinneMinds. “You are just going to be in a bad part of the economy. You’re going to be in a low-wage job and it’s going to be difficult to raise your family and to live.”
In addition to the spending on early childhood education, the governor would like to see $160 million be spent on human services, including $44 million for programs that would directly affect children. He also is proposing $100 million be spent on the expansion of tax breaks for families with children in child care.
All together, there is more than $600 million in spending priorities.
Dayton’s full budget proposal is expected to be released on January 27. While the state is projected to have a $1 billion surplus, much of it could end up disappearing after inflation is accounted for.