Memo to Legislature: Resist Dayton’s Push for Expansion of “Free” Pre-K

The Dayton administration continues its relentless demand for Minnesota to adopt universal Pre-K for all four-year-old’s. There is no danger the legislature will pass universal pre-K this session but GOP leaders might be tempted, as they have in past negotiations, to expand existing programs, adding a few more million here and a few more million there, just to get their K-12 education priorities passed.

I asked in the Strib this week, “Why are we in such a hurry for our little kids to grow up? Legislators should stand up to Gov. Dayton’s push for universal pre-K, aka ‘free child care,’ which is wasteful and misguided.”

What I did not say, given space limitations, is why I think the Governor, the teachers’ union and the left want our young children in school: first, they believe in the state; it is their church. Second, pre-K gives the state our impressionable children a year or two earlier to teach them leftist doctrine about race, gender, the environment and so on, and makes us more dependent on the state as a bonus. Third, it provides thousands of new union positions at about $1,000 a year for DFL and leftist politics (millions in annual revenues). Fourth, it makes those pre-K “teachers” beholden unto the state and the union for their livelihood.

That it leaves children exhausted is of little consequence. We are preparing them to be “workers.”

But I did touch on the value of sticking to the discipline of bonding sessions (even years) and budget sessions (odd years, next up in 2019). Then lawmakers would be able to say to Dayton, as Rep, Jenifer Loon has done, we will talk about that next year when we have more time.

The legislature should also return to the discipline of single subject bills, rather than passing these “garbage bills” in the form of monster omnibus bills; they are not transparent to the public, or even harried lawmakers. Nobody really knows what all is in there. Mistakes get made; and lawmakers try to do too much rather than focusing on the task at hand, which this session is a bonding bill and tax conformity bill. The Constitution require single subject legislation. The legislature should either amend the Constitution, or follow it.

Here are a few highlights from my op ed (you can read the entire piece here):

As in past years, Gov. Mark Dayton is lobbying hard to make permanent a School Readiness Plus/Voluntary Pre-K hybrid, passed with one-time funding of $56.6 million last year. This would be in addition to the regular pre-K biennial costs of $46 million, plus another $69 million for Early Learning Scholarships, some of which go to public schools.

Dayton’s commissioner of education is out selling the idea to parents around the state this way: “Beyond the benefits for children,” Commissioner Brenda Cassellius wrote in a commentary for the St. Cloud Times, “free prekindergarten can make a big difference for family budgets. Quality childcare can cost families an average of more than $10,000 per year for each child.”

The shameless “free child care” pitch will be attractive to many people given our fast-paced lives, focus on career and the rising cost of child care.

Dayton does not talk about what universal pre-K would cost, but a back-of-the-envelope calculation is that universal all-day pre-K could cost about $684 million a year (total current K-12 spending, less current pre-K costs, divided by 13 grades). That does not include costs to make buses and schools safe for very small children or to add classrooms to overcrowded schools.

Here is why they should stand up to Dayton: Education spending goes up each year but it never seems to be enough. Minnesota spends about $9 billion every year on K-12 and pre-K (that’s 41 percent of state tax dollars; we spend even more when you add our federal school aid).

Bottom line? Dayton’s “free” child care means less money for K-12 students and forces at-risk children — who do benefit greatly from early intervention — to compete for proper funding and other resources.

But this is not just about costs. It is about our children and our culture. Is this what we really want? Why are we in such a hurry for our children to grow up?

Even if adult life has changed, children and their brains have not: Children can learn all they need to know to get ready for kindergarten from their parents and other care providers. Except for at-risk kids, there is no evidence that nursery-aged children are at a disadvantage if they skip formal schooling at the tender age of 4.

In fact, as an expert mom, I would offer that children will do even better down the line if they are allowed to be really good at just being 4.