Dayton’s universal Pre-K plan is beneficial

If the state approves the plan, the budget will let Minnesota children attend free preschool.

by Keelia Moeller

After watching some 4- and 5-year-olds at Newport Elementary School successfully search their preschool classroom for the letter “S,” Gov. Mark Dayton emphasized just how important it is for children to have access to a quality preschool. Dayton used this opportunity to promote his plan to require statewide pre-kindergarten programs.

Dayton’s plan would ensure that all 4-year-olds in the state of Minnesota attend an all-day preschool. If he succeeds in this endeavor, Minnesota would become the 10th state to have universal pre-K programs.

Although this plan would require almost one-fifth of Minnesota’s budget surplus, the educational benefits outweigh these financial setbacks.

Brittany Vasecka, a preschool teacher at Newport Elementary School, told MPR News that children who have had access to preschool have an advantage over those who don’t. Other teachers at the school said they notice a vast academic difference between children with a preschool education and those without.

Only one-third of children in the South Washington County Schools went to preschool, according to Dayton. The fact that children are entering an uneven playing field during their first years of education is detrimental to their learning process.

The government’s role is to serve everybody — including the young children who will soon be the nation’s future.

Minnesota has one of the highest school-performance gaps in the country. But by providing statewide preschool, the gap could be reduced.

The achievement gap is not the only issue surrounding pre-K education — many parents cannot send their children to preschool because they are financially disadvantaged and need a place to bring their kids.

Minnesota may not have the budget for Dayton’s plan at this time. But while this plan is in its developing stages and the state gets funding together Dayton should focus his attention on providing preschool scholarships for disadvantaged children.

While performance gaps are a problem in the state, assisting low-income families should also be a top priority.

The benefits of early childhood education aren’t just academic. Similar initiatives are underway in Illinois, and research has shown that the state’s universal pre-K programs have also reduced juvenile crime rates while raising rates of high-school graduation.

Dayton’s plan is a noble one, and its success would mean a brighter future for the children of Minnesota. But if it were to fail, Dayton would need to focus on providing scholarships to disadvantaged families so more children have access to pre-K programs.

It is vital to focus on serving the needs of young children —even 4- and 5-year-olds. By starting their education early, and giving them all an equal academic advantage, hopefully some of Minnesota’s problems in early childhood education can be addressed.