As the 2013 Legislative Session continues, I am meeting with constituents on a variety of issues. The biggest issue facing Minnesota is our budget. After swinging from deficit to deficit, with budget shortfalls in eight of the past 11 years, we need to put Minnesota on a financially sustainable path.
While the budget works its way through the committee process and we wait for the next budget forecast, I’m moving my first bill through the legislative process. It is SF 162, which will allow flexibility to spend money on early education and all-day kindergarten.
Study-after-study shows the value of early education and all-day kindergarten. Recently here in Minnesota, the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District conducted a multi-year study (following students from kindergarten to third grade) to report the impact of all-day kindergarten. To no surprise, the study found children benefitted from all-day K. Students enrolled in all-day kindergarten programs received higher test scores than students in half-day kindergarten, with students in the universal all-day K program maintaining their achievement levels better compared to students enrolled in a fee-based program. Also, the study showed that a “critical mass” of students is necessary in the lower elementary grades in order to sustain achievement gains of all-day programs, which means we need a universal program to reap the greatest benefit.
At the same time, we cannot forget about pre-kindergarten education. It is as important as all-day kindergarten. Approximately 15,000 low-income students come to kindergarten underprepared, which costs the state nearly $860 million every year this continues (about $56,000 throughout the lifetime of each unprepared child). The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has calculated that investments in early education achieve a return as high as $16 for every $1 spent.
We have seen the benefits to children and to society when we invest in education at a young age. We’ve also seen it is important to have as many children as possible enrolled in these programs. My bill provides school districts with flexibility to better meet the needs of their community. It allows for more local decision making and greater local control. What is good for Woodbury might not be good for Thief River Falls. We need to allow our school districts the ability to determine the right path for them.
As I meet with businesses in Woodbury, Oakdale, Maplewood and throughout the district, I hear over and over the need for well-educated, highly skilled workers. Making sure our local businesses have the work force needed to compete in the global economy begins with early education. The students of today are the workers of tomorrow, and we need to make sure Minnesota continues to have the best workers in the world.
-Sen. Susan Kent