Gov. Dayton tries to secure more funds for preschool program

Governor Dayton is trying to secure more funds for preschool. Often called pre-kindergarten, preschool has been one of the governor's top priorities over the last eight years.

Now, he wants to make sure some of the funding doesn't end with the next state budget. Dayton is already sounding the alarm, but one key lawmaker is saying "don’t panic."

The legislature last year approved $50 million more in one-time funding for the School Readiness Plus Program.

The governor is trying to get the legislature to extend the funding for another two years starting in 2020. His administration wants to make continued funding part of the governor’s legacy after he leaves office.

"The good news is we are no longer fighting about the value of pre-K; it's about how much to put into pre-k," Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said.

The governor is asking the legislature to protect the funding in the next biennium for 4,000 pre-K students in 59 school districts. The total cost is $57 million.

One principal is already making her case to protect her school's share of the current funds.

"If we lose $280,000, which means dramatically eliminating the number of students that will be able to attend my preschool, it will hurt us. It will hurt our kids," said Cori Thompson, Bloomington Valley View Elementary School Principal. 

The current funding stream keeps preschoolers in place through the 2018 and 2019 school year. The House Education Chair says beyond that, she's not committing to a funding decision belonging to the next legislature.

"There should be no panic. This will be an item of discussion when the new budget is done next year with the new legislature and the new governor," said Rep. Jennifer Loon, Education Finance Committee Chair.  

But the governor is not giving up.

“What the kids need is the opportunity to be a part of a quality program - wherever that should be - and get the benefit of it…and the evidence shows that is one of the best ways to close the achievement gap before it begins," Dayton said.