Education chief praises Minn.’s preschool funding

Published 9:36 am Wednesday, July 17, 2013

BLOOMINGTON — U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised Minnesota’s newest funding for early education Tuesday during a trip to the Twin Cities.

Duncan visited a Bloomington preschool to drum up support for President Barack Obama’s “Preschool for All” initiative.

Minnesota devoted more money in the just-ended legislative session to initiatives including all-day kindergarten.

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Duncan and other supporters, including Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, say funding quality preschool will boost kindergarten readiness, close the achievement gap and improve the future economic prospects of everyone.

“I would argue this is the civil rights issue of our generation,” Duncan said at a news conference that followed a classroom visit and town-hall meeting with educators and policy leaders.

Obama has proposed $75 billion in new funding over 10 years that would fund preschool for low- and middle-income while increasing pay for early educators to help ensure high-quality programs. The White House has proposed a cigarette tax increase of 94 cents per pack to pay for the program.

If the plan is approved by Congress, Minnesota could get $38.7 million in the first year to fund preschool scholarships and other programs. That’s on top of $40 million in new preschool funding included in the latest state education-funding bill and $40 million in federal money the state was awarded as part of the Race to the Top school reform program.

Despite polarization in Washington, Duncan sounded upbeat about the proposal’s chances. He said politicians should consider the plan’s impact on their constituents.

“As I look across the country, Republican and Democratic governors, in tough economic times, are investing in early learning,” Duncan said. “I think it’s important Washington pays attention to the real world.”