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Dayton’s so-called pout over universal preschool should be called leadership

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
For Minnesota's sake, I sure hope Mark Dayton wins this argument.

Calling Gov. Mark Dayton’s attempt to introduce the concept of universal preschool into Minnesota a “public pout,” as Doug Grow did in his May 18 MinnPost column (“Why Dayton’s veto threat may pose problems — for Dayton”) is, in my estimation, profoundly wrong. It’s also the first time in my recollection Doug Grow has been so wrong in his writing. But, to the issue:

Wy Spano
Wy Spano

The moment we’re facing in Minnesota is analogous to the moment faced by Gov. Wendy Anderson and the Legislature in 1971. Eventually, after a nearly yearlong “public pout,” Anderson moved the state into a new education funding plan which guaranteed every Minnesota child relatively equal educational access, even if they lived in poorer areas of the state. We called the result of Anderson’s “pout” the Minnesota Miracle. Minnesota was one of two states in the entire country during the ’70s and ’80s where courts were not required to intervene in order to ensure adherence to the common state constitutional requirement of an equal education for all. Here we did it the old-fashioned way, with the governor and the Legislature setting policy.

We now have a governor who wants to institute universal pre-K education. Many legislators (most legislators, perhaps) and Grow are disagreeing with the governor. What are their reasons for disagreement?

1. School administrators don’t want to do it. Not too surprising. Most administrators don’t want to add new programs. And what administrators are saying is true. Universal pre-K is expensive and people will like it and there will be lots of pressure on districts to quickly offer it; we, as a state, will end up spending more money on kids’ education than we have before. It’s an expensive investment that will lead to an expensive new program. But I think it’s well worth it.

2. There isn’t, according to Grow, “universal belief among early-childhood experts” that universal pre-K would solve our gap in minority/majority education success. Granted. Which doesn’t say it won’t help. A lot.

3. There’s already a “nationally-lauded pre-K scholarship program for children of low-income families” in Minnesota. It’s good we started on this desirable road, but programs just for the poor have little political support and can eventually run out of funding. Programs tend to survive and thrive when all people benefit, not just the poor.

4. Four-year-olds may not be ready for school. This is the same argument that was offered around kindergarten and 5-year-olds. Problem is we’re much more excellence-oriented now than in the past. The halcyon days of kids just playing and not learning are gone.  Sure, some kids won’t be ready to socialize and be with other kids. But parents aren’t required to send them. And most parents are desperately seeking ways to help their kids gain social, emotional, and intellectual legs up. That’s what pre-K is for.

5. This will gobble up too much of the current surplus, which the Legislature wants to use instead to fund tax cuts in the 2016 session, just before running for reelection. Permit me another flashback: The last Minnesota governor faced with a large surplus (Ventura) gave it back to us in “Jesse checks” and tax cuts, thereby helping ensure that Minnesota’s transportation infrastructure headed downhill; he also helped along our Legislature’s rapid withdrawal of funding for public higher education. Higher earning Minnesotans pay around 1/3 less in taxes now than they did back then, but the demand to continue cutting taxes in Minnesota is a permanent feature of our political landscape.

We now have a governor insisting on instituting a massive and beneficial change in our state’s education system. We have the money. We can afford it. It benefits all kids, especially poorer kids. I choose not to call that pouting. I choose to call that leadership. For Minnesota’s sake, I sure hope Mark Dayton wins this argument.

Wy Spano is the director of the Master of Advocacy and Political Leadership Program at Metropolitan State University.


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Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/19/2015 - 07:24 am.

    Thank You Mr. Spano

    You are EXACTLY right,…

    and once again, I CONGRATULATE Gov. Dayton on his leadership,…

    and appeal to my Republican friends to stop worshiping at the,…

    you can have it all for free,…

    ALL taxes are evil,…

    altar set up a few decades ago by Grover Norquist!

    You do NOT serve Grover Norquist.

    You serve your constituents: the citizens of the State of Minnesota,…

    which sometimes means you don’t give them exactly what they want,…

    but give them EXACTLY what they need,…

    which they probably won’t recognize until after they have it.

  2. Submitted by David Mindeman on 05/19/2015 - 08:52 am.

    Those Jesse checks….

    also set us up for a decade of massive budget deficits.

  3. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 05/19/2015 - 08:58 am.

    It is Pouting

    Dayton has singled out the House Republicans on this in an attempt to have people bully the House. His whole rant has been as if he is a wronged victim when there is a lot to look into this program before fully funding if it is worth while, especially at the tune of $500 million per year just for starters.
    Dayton refuses to acknowledge that the DFL Senate is against funding this at this level right now as well.
    If Dayton was truly being a leader, he would tout the benefits instead of trashing select groups and being half-truthed. Leadership is about powering forward with ideas and solutions and getting people on board, not throwing juvenile press conferences blaming others for getting in the way as been his MO for long before even the pre-K issue.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/19/2015 - 09:26 am.


    Our kids don’t wait. When we miss an opportunity to teach them, it can’t be recaptured, it’s gone forever. I am no expert at all on the merits of the governor’s proposal, but what I do know without any expertise at all is that education policy should be dictated by our understanding of what’s best for the kids, not by short term political considerations which will be gone in a moment, or by a willingness to engage in labeling and name calling for political advantage.

    What the governor is now doing should surprise no one. He established his priorities early in the session, and has adhered to them consistently. This morning the speaker of the house informed us that the governor hasn’t done the legislative groundwork to get his initiative passed, and therefore the failure to pass it wasn’t his, the speaker’s fault. Well, I think the speaker needs to be reminded what every legislator should know which is that satisfying the educational needs of our kids isn’t just the governor’s problem, it’s the problem of every single legislator, and that it’s the responsibility of legislators, not the governor, to legislate effectively to respond to those needs.

  5. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/19/2015 - 09:51 am.

    Wy’s Point #4

    While I don’t necessarily disagree with Wy that the Guv is not pouting, I can’t let his fourth point pass without comment, because is see it as essential to how we see pre-k.

    Wy’s speaks of kids “just playing and not learning.” I can’t believe how dangerous and naive that is.

    Playing IS learning. Einstein called play “the highest form of research.” The idea that learning takes place only or primarily in special buildings at certain times is very destructive and limiting. I encourage my kids to color outside the lines.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 05/19/2015 - 10:16 am.


      Playing IS learning. However, playing with other kids is learning more. For many kids, the alternative is staying with a relative or a parent that does not work outside the home. That’s not always a bad thing, but kids learn from each other and learn how to interact with each other if they’re allowed to play together in both structured and unstructured ways. Something that adults just can’t give them.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/20/2015 - 08:13 am.


        Who says kids that aren’t in pre-k programs only play alone or with adults? There are plenty of formal and informal mom’s groups (yeah, yeah, there are stay at home Dads too, I’m aware of that), play groups, cousins, siblings, neighbors, baby sitting co-ops, etc.

        And what exactly is meant by “…staying with a relative or a parent that does not work outside the home. That’s not always a bad thing..”? Barring abuse, when IS saying with a parent a bad thing? I thought we called that “family”.

        • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 05/20/2015 - 05:20 pm.


          Play groups and co-ops? We’re definitely talking about different groups of kids. Formal and informal play groups are not a universal thing. And they certainly aren’t terribly diverse. Kids are learning more than just how to play with kids, they’re learning how to interact with people. Interacting with diverse groups of people benefits kids in many ways, and if nothing else, they learn how to be decent to each other.

          Kids who stay at home with a non-working parent or family member aren’t always simply staying with a stay-at-home mom or dad. Being able to stay at home with a kid is a very big luxury. For most parents, it’s an impossibility. For those that can’t afford to stay at home with a child, yet due to the inability to work (or afford child care) do, it’s not always an ideal situation for the kid. Which brings about the question–if all forms of child care are equal, then why is there a gap between the middle and upper class kids and the lower class kids when they hit kindergarten?

          The answer is that they’re not. Some forms of child care are simply a way to make sure your kid survives childhood while you’re busy trying to pay bills. Sure, those individuals might qualify for pre-K scholarships (given that they don’t make too much money!), but building in support from multiple income levels will assure that such support is less likely to disappear. Plus, there are plenty of middle class people who struggle to pay all the bills when child care is figured into the equation. Many of those individuals would opt to provide a pre-K experience for their kids when they otherwise wouldn’t have, if it was universal. Would it be any less expensive? Maybe a little, but I as a non-parent taxpayer, would be helping shoulder the burden. And, in my opinion, a solution that benefits both the poor and stabilizes the middle class is a good thing.

  6. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/19/2015 - 10:11 am.

    Let’s do it…..

    Let us fund universal pre-k on a voucher education plan. In fact, let us have vouchers for all the children (k-12) – you can’t get more public than that.

  7. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 05/19/2015 - 10:27 am.

    A Liberal disagrees

    I’m no Republican and usually very liberal but I think this is a very poor idea. I don’t think Dayton has even convinced the majority of his own party that we need this. Right now people who can afford this put their kids in preschools at churches and other places. This program will stomp those places out of existence. As I understand it there is already a program to help poor and disadvantaged families get subsidized help with this. There is no clear proof this will work so why not proceed on a smaller, more targeted scale? My guess is that this is an agenda item for the teachers’ union.

    He looks like he’s pouting to me. He’s trying to force an issue instead of building consensus. I was for all day kindergarten but not this. Would he be pushing this if there wasn’t a big pot of money he was trying to spend? I also disagree with all the Republican tax cuts because they are so targeted that most people I know will get nothing so I don’t really care for that dip into the pot. They are all like greedy heirs at the reading of the will. Gimme, gimme, I’m a saint, you’re a jerk.

    Someone explain to me why every year education spending and health care costs have to rise way faster than inflation. For the last 50 years they have been tinkering with education and I don’t see where kids are any smarter. For the record my first quarter at the U in fall of 1966 cost $125 for a full time day school student. I think tuition has risen just a little faster than inflation since then. What do we have to show for it?

    • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 05/19/2015 - 11:57 am.


      If those “reforms” had anything like true value in dollar terms the university education would now be about 100 times better than when I went to school. NOT.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 05/20/2015 - 12:06 am.


      Could then opposition to this proposal be considering caving in to the special interests hoping to not be “stomped out of existence”. Nobody is stomping on anyone, last I checked there was a robust private education system for ” those who could afford it” already in place. Problem is many cannot afford it, yet still would not qualify for the subsidization you seek. Apparently those folks don’t register on your scale of concerns. It’s not my concern whether or not pre k providers maintain an income, if their exorbitant prices are an indication of their efficiency than this is a status quo that deserves to be broken.

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/19/2015 - 11:00 am.

    Someone explain to me why every year education spending and health care costs have to rise way faster than inflation.

    To begin with, there isn’t any particular reason why education and health care costs should be linked to inflation. It’s sort of like saying the apple crop was great so how come we don’t have more oranges? When you look at costs, you have to look at what’s driving changes. In education, the stuff we do in terms of reform, tends to be pretty expensive.

    • Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 05/19/2015 - 11:46 am.

      Education costs are largely for people

      And those people are provided health insurance as a benefit for employment. The inflation rate for health insurance, as you acknowledge, outpaces the ordinary inflation rate. That increased cost for health insurance is borne by the school district – which causes education spending to also outpace ordinary inflation. Just one more reason why a single payer health insurance system would make sense.

  9. Submitted by Michael Hess on 05/19/2015 - 11:02 am.

    Leadership would be working to convince stakeholders of a path forward. I disagree that the scholarships and other programs for at risk youth are unpopular and can run out of funding as an argument against them. The strongest evidence I have seen in favor of Pre-K comes from this population of students. So if the Gov wanted to be a leader he should have demanded the pols doubled down or triple down on this program. That would have been affordable and absorbable and politically acceptable.

    But Gov Dayton has stubbornly refused to focus his efforts instead demanding a universal program that dramatically expands the public school system, to the tune eventually of another $1B a year eventually and brings with it many additional local costs such as facilities. His “compromise” of dropping to half day doesn’t help and introduces a host of other pragmatic problems related to transporting children mid day, aligning childcare for working parents, etc.

    Lastly on this familiar refrain of “we can afford it”. We have a surplus now because of the huge tax hikes of a couple years ago and a strong diverse local economy. To commit the entire surplus in perpetuity to new annual programs as the Gov would propose is totally irresponsible. How would the state cover expenses should tax revenues fall a little short? You cant just turn Pre-K on and off based on funding that year.

    The Governor also has a conflict of interest with his support of a program that would dramatically boost union teaching jobs, given the strong support of the teachers union.

    So on this I agree with Mr Grow that the Governors reaction to this is more pout than leadership and I hope he will really come to the table to try and solve the problem of achievement gap and not dictate a solution (which happens to be very popular with his Education Minnesota teacher union backers).

  10. Submitted by LK WOODRUFF on 05/19/2015 - 05:22 pm.


    IMO: Governor Dayton is doing an outstanding and exceptional job.
    I am very proud of him.

    He received a good education and business training over the years. Now, as Governor, he is putting them to good use by refusing to play games or cave on issues he feels strongly will benefit Minnesotans in the future.

    I wish we had many, many more like him working for Minnesotans.


    I will also add an important caveat:

    Historically, we here in MN , and also nationally, seem to quickly develop budget ‘surpluses’ whenever we have Democrats in lead positions.

    Then time goes by…and Republicans get voted in, and those surpluses quickly disappear!
    This has happened consistently over & over & over & over, through the years….

    The Republicans have insisted all of these many years that they are the fiscally gifted party.

    Perhaps all voters should stop listening to what they SAY, and instead pay heed to what they DO.

    REPs clearly are NOT strong in arithmetic, higher math, or economics. The only ones benefitting financially from their actions are the corporations (who do not vote, but manage a great deal of influence thanks to paid lobbyists.)

    What they are very obviously very good at is: manipulation, misrepresentation, fraud & bullying.
    They have forged a strong allegiance to, and alliance with, Big Business, the Chamber of Commerce and Wall Street….all of whom, along with the Koch Brothers, have 4 consistent goals:

    1 – profits, profits, profits
    2 – destroy our democracy
    3 – destroy our earth
    4 – force national, then world, dominance.

    So where does that leave all the rest of us??

    Poor, disillusioned, disenfranchised, struggling, ill, ignorant & dying.

    The only up side to that is that ultimately – there will be no qualified employees to run their corporations down the road, so they, too, will cease to exist.

    Quite a dismal forecast, isn’t it?

    What to do about it?

    – Study the issues in-depth. Become the most informed voters ever!!!
    – Research candidates fully!!! Dig for the dirt they are hiding.
    – Then vote for individuals who will honestly represent YOU & YOUR NEEDS.
    – And those of our children and grandchildren & great-grand-children, too.

    “…Of the people, by the people, for the people.”
    As the Founding Fathers, in their great & collective wisdom, envisioned.
    As we have all held dear, during the entire existence of our beloved country:

    the UNITED States of America.

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