Why 4-Year-Olds Should Beat Governor Dayton Back with an Olive Branch

The Governor’s office, DFL leaders and the teachers union, Education Minnesota, have made it clear that once again, one of their top priorities remains “Universal Pre-K” in Minnesota. This started as a private scholarship program for at-risk kids, to give them a nurturing place to be while their (single) moms were at work and school (e.g. day care and nursey school combined).

It has evolved into a “voluntary” program where public schools compete for funding to offer Pre-K. Currently, $25 million in base funding serves 74 school districts and an estimated 3,300 4-year-olds. Dayton and his gang want funding for 17,000 tots in 260 districts.

Supporters pretend that “this is for the kids,” attacking cold-hearted conservatives for denying children the opportunity to begin their Progressive indoctrination at age four. This is the kind of nonsense the conservative lawmakers must combat every day.

One early ed director from Pine City lamented: “It breaks my heart when a 4-year-old arrives at our school with their backpack loaded, ready to learn, and we have to turn them away.”

Really? Backpack loaded? With what? Apparently, kids cannot just be kids anymore, and parents do not have to parent their small children.

The Governor is demanding $175 million, and Education Minnesota is demanding that the Pre-K “teachers” be licensed. Why? Because then the union can claim them as members and take their mandatory union dues. So they can spend it on getting politicians like Mark Dayton elected. So those politicians will find them more money to hire more public employees and so on.

It is a corrupt cycle that has warped our democratic discourse and elective process, and grown government to the point where We the People are paying government employees and politicians to lobby for more government.

(BTW-there is NO discussion about the capitol costs of adding a new grade, nor the costs of pensions and other benefits for new public employees.)

Fortunately, there are brave and smart folks at the Legislature. Both the House and Senate passed K-12 omnibus bills this week.

Although I am not sure about the big increases in spending (we just did that), I like the House version’s approach to the Pre-K issue because it gently but firmly pushes the camel’s nose that is now under the tent, back outside where it belongs.

The Senate version keeps the status quo with no additional funding—that means the camel is well positioned to push its way into the tent inch by inch.

The House version handles the both funding and licensing issue while preserving the program for at-risk kids. The camel, however, is still hanging around the playground because the program is still at public schools rather than churches and private nursery schools where it belongs. One of the consequences is good in-home child care providers are going out of business.

But if the Legislature did the right thing and forbid public schools from offering Pre-K, Dayton would veto the education bill. He might anyway.

Here is MPR’s description:

House Republicans have long resisted Dayton’s pre-K push. Their recently-released education finance bill eliminates the base pre-K funding that they approved last session.

Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, who chairs the House education committee, said she prefers a more targeted approach that directs funding to the children who need it most. She favors early learning scholarships and school-readiness programs, which, unlike pre-K, do not require licensed teachers.

“The governor is now trying to take us in a slightly different direction by having really a new grade at school,” Loon said. “That serves children whether they come from [economically] disadvantaged backgrounds or not.”

She adjusted her bill this week to help the 74 districts currently receiving voluntary pre-K funding. Loon said they’ll instead receive an equal amount of school-readiness funding.

“It’s an olive branch to the governor to say that those school districts are not going to lose out on an opportunity to provide quality early to those children in their community,” she said. “They’re just going to have more flexibility with the dollars that I’m assigning to it.”

But Dayton, who described the original House proposal as “appalling” and accused Republicans of using 4-year-old as bargaining chips, brushed off Loon’s overture.

“That’s not an olive branch. That’s a poke in the eye,” he said. The House and Senate are expected to vote on education funding bills next week. Negotiations will then heat up with the governor on a potential compromise.

Senate Republicans take a different approach from the House in their education bill. They didn’t include the governor’s proposed increase and kept pre-K funding at its current level.

Unless Senators want to fund their political opponents by leaving pre-K in place, and put the school readiness program at risk, let’s hope the conference committee accepts the House version and uses that olive branch to beat back the Governor.