On Monday, legislators passed an E-12 education-funding bill that was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton, as it lacks funding for preschool for 4-year-olds.
I suggest a solution that may be acceptable to all: public school choice for preschool. The Minnesota Legislature has a long history as pioneer in public school choice. Why not extend this to preschool programs for 4-year-olds?
Parents, teachers and school districts who want to create a public preschool program can apply as a nonprofit organization or school district to create a program customized to their needs for the 2015-2016 school year. Preschool leaders will enter into a three-year contract with the Department of Education and commit to certain outcomes in their contract for each year. Preschool leaders will be held accountable for results, or their program may be closed by the department.
Public school choice meets the needs of the competing parties. Here’s why.
Pre-K choice, not universal Pre-K. Only those parents or educators who desire a public, tuition-free option for preschool will create and enroll children in the preschool. Public funding will follow the student. The cost will be far less than universal pre-K, yet meet existing demand. The Legislature can allocate a specific amount to start the program. If demand increases, the Legislature can increase funding for more pre-K opportunities in the future.
Accountable for results. Not all preschool programs are created equal in quality. Under this proposal, preschool leaders will commit to certain performance results, or their program may be closed.
Access for every child. Public choice preschool programs will be open to every child, as every child deserves an effective education. Many low-income children will be served, as will other children who can benefit from early education. Parental engagement will likely be a key motivating force for founding groups.
Evaluation data. Data regarding demand and results will guide the Legislature as to growth of tuition-free preschool opportunities for the future.
Public school choice for preschool provides freedom to choose, effective education for every child, and effective and efficient use of tax dollars. Most of all, it provides opportunity for Minnesota families and their youngsters.
Democrats and Republicans can all find something to like in this nation-leading, innovative approach. Supporters of private scholarships and universal preschool can all find something to like. This approach combines elements of open enrollment and chartering, both familiar public school choice options already available to Minnesota families.
And policymakers? They will bring closure to the legislative session as they impact the lives of future generations.
Former DFL state senator Ember Reichgott Junge is the author of Minnesota’s public school choice initiatives of open enrollment and chartering.
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