House DFL leaders were in North St. Paul Monday to make a case for all-day kindergarten as well as for the tax increases they want to use to pay for it.
State lawmakers are using their time off this week to talk about where they stand on the tax and spending issues that will dominate the rest of the Legislative session.
The budget outline that House Democrats unveiled last week included $700 million in new spending over the next two years for public education, from pre-school through college. More than $100 million of that amount would begin making all-day kindergarten available statewide.
ALL-DAY K WORTH THE COST, SUPPORTERS SAY
Jim Miklausich, principal of Richardson Elementary School in North St. Paul, explained during the DFL news conference that his district's switch to universal all-day kindergarten helped increase test scores and close achievement gaps.
"Six years ago, we were a school district that trailed the state in student reading and math proficiency," Miklausich said. "Now, we're ahead of the state average proficiency in math and we have tied the state in the area of reading."
House Democrats believe the success in the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district can be replicated statewide. House Majority Leader Erin Murphy of St. Paul said all-day kindergarten can help Minnesota regain its status as an education leader.
"Twenty nine other states in the nation, including almost all of our neighbors, invest in all-day every-day kindergarten," Murphy said. "Their young learners in those states are getting the full benefit of that educational preparation."
Murphy also said the funding would provide some financial relief to the Minnesota families who participate in the fee-based all-day kindergarten programs currently available in many school districts.
House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis said the House proposal would increase the state's per-pupil allocation to school districts for students in all-day kindergarten to the same level as first, second and third graders. The students in half-day programs would continue generating a lower amount. Thissen said he believes Minnesotans support the idea and are willing to pay for it.
"It is going to require an investment from the people of Minnesota," Thissen said. "We are also on record saying we think we need to bring new revenues into our state in order to make this investment and other investments in education, to truly make this 2013 the education session."
REPUBLICANS PUSH BACK
The new revenue Thissen is pushing for includes an income tax increase on top earners. He also wants to use a temporary income tax surcharge on the wealthiest of the wealthy to pay back the $854 million still owed to schools from previous budget deals.
House Republicans oppose raising any taxes, and they're using the break to speak out against the DFL plan. Rep. Kelby Woodard of Belle Plaine, the lead Republican on the House education committee, said school spending should be a priority within existing resources.
"Making us the top income tax bracket in the nation, which is what the DFL House caucus proposes, is not a way to attract businesses to Minnesota that can actually pay the taxes that allow us to have an excellent K-12 education system," Woodard said.
Woodard, who was on the road in southern Minnesota talking about the budget, also said he's not convinced all-day kindergarten would be helpful to all children. He said local districts should get to decide which students and which grades would benefit most from the money.
"You might have other priorities," Woodard said. "Dealing with the achievement gap, the ability for third graders to read at grade level — those kind of programs [rather] than a full all out all-day kindergarten program across the state."
Senate Democrats are proposing to spend $140 million for all-day kindergarten. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who traveled to Moorhead to talk about his budget proposal, wants to spend $40 million.