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Teaching union restarts the battle for universal pre-K access

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A teaching union is once again taking up the fight to make tuition-free, pre-kindergarten education available to all Minnesota families.

Funding universal pre-K was Gov. Mark Dayton's main policy in last year's budget negotiations, but ultimately he was forced to abandon his plans after pushback from lawmakers.

Teachers' union Education Minnesota released a report on Thursday highlighting the "immediate and long-term benefits" it could have for Minnesotans, arguing an early investment in children would pay "huge dividends for states in the long-term."

It says pre-K education is currently only available to wealthier families, with low- and middle-income families missing out, noting the state's current pre-K scholarship program is only available to around 5,700 families, and even then middle-income families don't qualify.

What's more, there are around 69,000 children under the age of 6 living in poverty in the state.

By making pre-K education available to everyone who wants it, it would address the significant economic and achievement gaps that exist in Minnesota, advocates say.

The report contends it would lead to fewer students who need special education services, and further down the road it could increase tax base, lower crime and divorce rates, and reduced social service costs, with the union citing research into the benefits to children of pre-K education.

Opposition to universal pre-K

The Star Tribune reports that last year, Senate Democrats chose to fund existing pre-K programs – which vary in availability – rather than implement universal access to pre-K, while House Republicans decided to boost funding to pre-K scholarships.

The newspaper notes school districts also aren't fans of the plan, arguing they don't have the space to take in more kids following the recent implementation of all-day kindergarten.

But Education Minnesota says other states who have tuition-free pre-K have found ways to solve the space issues, such as sharing space with other agencies and providers.

To ensure its pre-K plan is of high quality, it recommends licensed teachers be hired, that class sizes are capped at 20, and to align the curriculum with the "Minnesota Early Childhood Indicators of Progress."

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