How Minnesota Republicans want to fund preschool

A good chunk of the argument between Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican House that could lead to a partial government shutdown has to do with preschool. The governor is passionate about spending more money to send every 4-year-old to preschool. But Republicans say the money is better spent on the at-risk kids who need it most.

To promote the pre-K scholarship plan, House Speaker Kurt Daudt dropped in on a private preschool and daycare center to prove his point that targeting at-risk families is a better approach. Nearly all of the students come from low income families who have received state support to attend New Horizon Academy -- a private, neighborhood-based all-day preschool in St. Paul.

"We think that targeting the scholarship money at the folks that really need it is the most effective way," Daudt said.

Well-established academic research supports his argument. Longitudinal studies on a group of at-risk African American children in Michigan show early education makes a difference. The Perry Preschool Research shows the following trends:

By age 5, 67 percent of the targeted children had an IQ above 90, versus 28 percent of the at-risk children who had no preschool.

By high school 77 percent of them had graduated.

At age 27, 76 percent had jobs.

At age 40, 70 percent still had jobs, versus only half of the group that had no early education.

A separate analysis by Nobel-winning economist James Heckman found the Perry preschool experiment resulted in a 7 to 10 percent per-year return on investment in reduced costs for remedial education, health, and criminal justice.

The Humphrey Institute's Art Rolnick argues the governor's universal preschool approach won't have the same impact.

"For a third, for $100 million a year, we can provide scholarships for every child born into poverty in this state," Rolnick said. "You want to do something big? You want to make a statement to these families how much we care about their kids? You want to make a statement to the business community, that we're going to have one of the best workforces in the country, that's doing something big."

The governor has been saying all along that we can have both. We can keep the early education scholarships for low income at-risk kids the state has already developed, and we can have universal preschool for 4-year-olds.

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