Democrats in the Minnesota House have released a budget bill that would pay for early childhood education -- and it's drastically smaller than what advocates were calling for.
Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood, says her $40 million bill would increase funding for Head Start, child care assistance and other school readiness programs.
It would also expand training for early childhood and preschool teachers and put money into community education programs.
The total is just a fraction of the $400 million that early childhood supporters had been seeking.
Slawik says would have liked more money, but House DFL leaders placed a greater importance on all-day kindergarten. Still, she says the bill is an improvement over the past few years.
"The last four years in the Legislature, all we have done is cut," says Slawik. "We've cut and we've moved the ball backwards, and we hurt families and we hurt kids and we kicked kids off the child care system. And we're stopping that."
The proposal reduces costs for families who get state-subsidized child care, but does not reduce the waiting list for families who want assistance.
Todd Otis, with a group called Ready for K, says it's a start.
"Given what they had to work with, this is a strong piece of legislation," said Otis. "I hope this is the basement and not the top floor. And hope springs eternal. As the session evolves, some of these issues will be looked at from a bigger perspective. For example, if there really are interested in closing the achievement gap, I don't see how they don't spend more money on early childhood."
The plan is larger than Gov. Pawlenty has proposed an increase of $29 million for early childhood education programs, including scholarships for the neediest children.