Tuesday is the first day of school for most Minnesota students -- Minneapolis and some other districts returned last week -- and it also marks the beginning of free all day kindergarten for about 55,000 students across the state.
Minnesota lawmakers approved a $134 million boost in funding in 2013 to pay for all day kindergarten. Some districts had charged parents as much as $4,000 a year for all day kindergarten before that. Parents who couldn't afford the bill opted instead for half day programs.
Brian McGinley, principal of Deephaven Elementary school in the Minnetonka school district, said teachers will now have more time to work with kindergarteners, better preparing them for later grades.
"To have a qualified teacher working with a child all day is far different than having them working with the for two and a half hours a day," he said. "We will see a significant increase in the long run for their learning because we're able to work with them at such a young age for the entire day."
State funding for all day kindergarten has also created a space crunch for districts: More kindergartners will be spending the entire day in class, some districts have had to build new classrooms.
Still, officials Tuesday lauded the effort as an important long-term investment in Minnesota's future.
"The research is clear, if you get a great start you're going to do well in the rest of your career in school," Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said Tuesday as she and Gov. Mark Dayton greeted kindergartners on their first day at Garden City Elementary in Brooklyn Center.