"It's a grandpa!"
The grandpa-looking guy at Westview Elementary in Apple Valley likely none of the kids knew was Gov. Dayton. Their visitor wanted to see an existing Pre-K program in operation first-hand. Legislators didn't include funding for a universal Pre-K program in the education bill, hence Gov. Dayton's veto, and hence his visit on Friday.
At Westview, the program is funded at a district level, just enough money for a handful of kids who they deemed could benefit from it most. The program is just a couple years old, the school says the program has worked wonders.
"If anything the conversation is out there on how important early learning is," Superintendent Jane Berenz said. "I know everybody has different ideas how you're going to get there."
A discussion afterward with administrators, teachers and parents talked about the governor's goal of universal Pre-K compared to existing programs. Gov. Dayton says he's not trying to take money away from anything, but what he wants is $147 million in additional funding.
"It's not either or, it's and, and, and," he said. "There's got to be enough money in the formula that we're not taking away from kids who are in regular classrooms."
Legislators who didn't include Pre-K in the bill say that the fear of having to choose is one of the fears that kept it from the budget.
"What we're hearing from around the state is that the universal Pre-K option may put them in a situation where they're having to pit programs against each other versus giving them the flexibility they need." Rep. Tara Mack (R-Apple Valley) said.
It's the heart of the education bill that needs to be solved soon, because current funding is soon to run dry.
Under the entire $173 million proposal, Minnesota would be among the first states in the country to offer free, voluntary, half-day early learning programs for every four-year-old. Dayton estimated 47,300 students would benefit from the program.