DFL lawmakers pitch universal all-day kindergarten

5:10 AM, Mar 26, 2013   |    comments
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Minneapolis kindergarten classroom

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In Minnesota kindergarten is still optional. So, for some, the notion of "all-day k" will take some selling.

That's why House DFL leaders spent part of the Easter/Passover recess making the case for universal all-day kindergarten.

"Certainly beginning at age 3, and certainly in All-Day K, the data is very strong," Rep. Erin Murphy, the House Majority Leader, told reporters Monday.

"And shows it's going to better prepare our kids for the future."

Rep. Murphy and House Speaker Paul Thissen held a press event in North Saint Paul, to pitch the idea of spending and extra $100 million in the next two-year budget cycle, and $100 millon per year thereafter, to help local district pay for full-day kindergarten.

With the state facing a $627 million projected deficit for FY 2014-2015, it would take new tax revenue to fill that gap and boost spending on schools.  Increasing the income tax rate on the top two percent of Minnesota's earners, and adding new cigarette taxes, are among the ideas on the table for raising new cash.

"It's not going to happen for free. It's not going to happen with just a snap of the fingers," Speaker Thissen explained.

"It is going to require an investment from the people of Minnesota."

Thissen said that he would expect the new system to be phased in by districts, which would have to find the space and staff needed to accommodate all-day classes.

Universal all-day kindergarten is the standard in 29 states, including Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota.  In Minnesota currently only 44 percent of kindergartners are in their classrooms the full school day.

In some districts it's free, but in others parent's have to spend thousands of dollars out of pocket for that extra class time.

"I make a good salary as a Saint Paul policeman, and yet I can't afford to pay that kind of money for all-day kindergarten," Matt Koncar, a St. Paul Police Officer, told reporters.

He appeared at the press event with his two kindergartners, Louie and Lloyd. He said they both do half-days in the Roseville district, because it would've cost him $6,000 to put both boys in all-day kindergarten.

"As a policeman I see all kinds of far more disadvantaged families than mine, who really could use all-day kindergarten for their kids to help them get a leg up in life."

What supporters of All-Day K have on their side is that those classrooms have become labs, in a sense, with measurable results in standardized tests given in first grade as well as progress closing the achievement gap.

The North St. Paul/Maplewood/Oakdale school district, which hosted Monday's event, switched to all-day kindergarten six years ago.   The district has been able to track the performance of the first set of students through their entire elementary school careers.

"We're seeing kindergarten students who are reading at twice the previous level, and we're seeing those gains hold through the end of elementary school," Jim Miklausich, the principal at Richardson Elementary school, said.

"Six years ago we were a school district that trailed the state in reading and math proficiency. Now we're ahead of the state average proficiency in math, and we have tied the state in the area of reading."

Jenna Peters, a kindergarten teacher at the same school, said the terms half-day and full-day are misleading in a way. Full-day kindergartners are in class on average 1,200 hours per academic year, versus 435 hours for traditional kindergartners.

"We create a sense of possible for our kindergartners that, simply put, is nearly impossible in a third of the time," Peters said.

"I see kids with limited knowledge of math concepts in September leave with the problem-solving skills and numbers sense needed to add and subtract."

In order to pay for all-day kindergarten without charging extra fees to parents, the school district was forced to reduce spending in other academic areas, according to Miklausich.

He said if initiative passes this session and is signed into law by Gov. Dayton, that state funding would free the district to address other needs.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the concept of spending more on early learning, because of research that shows it's money that helps the economy and employers over the long run.

The Chamber opposes the manner in which Dayton and DFL lawmakers would try to finance it, namely the higher tax rates on the top two percent of earners.

That fourth tier tax bracket would apply to income above $150,000 for single filers, and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritte or redistributed.)

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