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Dayton promises to veto budget if passed without universal preschool

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
Gov. Mark Dayton, right, at a Saturday morning press conference with Lt. Gov. Tina Smith: “I'll say it again, and I'll say it again, and I'll say it again: I'm going to veto $400 million because it's wrong for the people of Minnesota, the parents of Minnesota, the schoolchildren of Minnesota.”

Not so fast.

A day after legislative leaders said they had reached a tentative budget deal that would allow them to end the session on time, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton says he’s not happy with the agreement — and that he’s not afraid to use his veto power to get a better one.

In particular, Dayton is miffed that the deal between Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk spends $400 million out of a nearly $2 billion budget surplus on early-through-high-school education. That’s $150 million less than what Dayton said he was willing to agree to; the funding also doesn’t explicitly include his top priority, universal pre-kindergarten. 

“I’ll say it again, and I’ll say it again, and I’ll say it again: I’m going to veto $400 million because it’s wrong for the people of Minnesota, the parents of Minnesota, the schoolchildren of Minnesota,” Dayton said in a rare Saturday press conference. “It’s wrong.” 

Originally, Dayton wanted $750 million spent on education over the next two years, but he said he told legislators in budget negotiations all week that he was willing to come down to $550 million — if it included a 1.5 percent increase on the per-pupil spending formula each of the next two years; and if included a half-day version of his plan to offer pre-kindergarten education to 4-year-olds across the state.

“If they want to go into special session, that’s their choice,” Dayton said of legislators, who are constitutionally required to finish their business Monday. “We can get this done still if we sense some willingness to compromise on their part. I’ve offered to meet them halfway.”

Bakk said he sided with Dayton in closed-door negotiations all week, but Republicans originally wanted just $250 million more spent on education. They eventually agreed to go up to $400 million, but no higher. “The Republicans were just not willing to go there,” he said. “We are going to pass [our budget] bill, and I imagine then we are going to go home.”

Dayton has three days after session adjourns to either sign or veto any of the budget bills. 

Bakk said lawmakers are open to including Dayton’s pre-kindergarten proposal in their budget bill, but it would have to fall within their $400 million target. He added that it would be “very risky” for Dayton to veto the education bill after the session ends, because education will continue to get funding through current law, but it wouldn’t get any new funding.

It could also put in jeopardy funding for the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), which employs 400 state workers. Without staff at MDE, payments to schools could not be processed, according to officials in the office of Minnesota Management and Budget. 

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk
MinnPost photo by Briana Biersch
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said lawmakers are open to including Dayton’s pre-kindergarten proposal in their budget bill, but it would have to fall within their $400 million target.

“He maybe doesn’t get an education bill from the House,” Bakk said. “Schools will continue to get the normal money that they get, except for the fact that they won’t get the $400 million that the governor may or may not veto. I think that’s incredibly risky. These Republicans do not want to spend money on state government, and that includes schools.”

Republicans say neither chamber passed the pre-kindergarten education bill, and many education advocates say they prefer to put money into targeted, early education scholarships and more money into the formula. Dayton said he wants to spend money on all of it.

“I’m not for either or, I’m for all,” Dayton said. “I’m for early childhood scholarships, I’m for school readiness, I’m for voluntary pre-k, and I think that will best serve the different needs. But to say we are just going to help this group and just help that group and leave everybody else out is ill advised.”

Dayton has the backing of the House DFL minority party. They signed and sent a letter to his office Saturday supporting his call for an extra $550 million spent on education. 

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 05/16/2015 - 04:12 pm.

    Universal Kindergarten was going to be the key to childhood development decades ago. The question I am asking is, what happens when Pre-K does the same thing for 4 yr olds as Kindergarten did for 5 yr olds. Teaching our children how to learn is vastly more important than what they learn. In the real world of business and workplace competition, adapting and learning on the fly wins all the time.
    This reeks of Teachers union payback. Our children learn enough crap from age 5-18 in school, now the Liberals are telling me they need them from 4-18 and it will all be better. They can’t get the job done in 13 yrs of public school but 14 yrs will be the ticket. Give me a break.

    When I was a kid, many families did not send their kids to Kindergarten. My cousin was 1 of those and he went to Dental school at 19.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/16/2015 - 06:20 pm.


      Definitely a power grab by Dayton for the Ed MN folks, he apparently wants to double down on their questionable K-12 results. He and the DFL choose to avoid laws to hold them accountable for being effective, and now he wants to give them more money and responsibility. I will never understand.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 05/18/2015 - 12:37 pm.

      It would seem

      Those parents of means (and obviously high intellect as per some folks thoughts on financial success) would disagree with you. Unless one thinks the proliferation of for profit, acadameic minded pre-k facilities offering an educational leg up for a veritable arm and a leg are mere vanity projects. If there is no value in early education, why do SO many people, many of whom folks of a certain political stripe put forth as pillars of virtue and success choose to send there children to early education programs? Better yet, why are they at the same time SO opposed to folks of lesser means having more access to them. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

  2. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 05/16/2015 - 10:09 pm.

    “Our children learn enough crap from age 5-18 in school”

    Pathetic and sad thing to say.

    Thank you, Governor Dayton, for being a beacon of sanity in an insane (mostly) GOP world.

    But to be fair, Mr. Bakk has no business calling himself a Democrat after this fiasco.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/17/2015 - 09:51 am.


      So you are saying that ALL families in MN NEED Free pre-school?

      What is your rationale for not focusing those funds on closing the gap?

      As far as I can see Dayton, is “standing up for all kids”… I may not be rich, but I sure had no problem affording 2 years of pre-school for my daughters. Yet Dayton is demanding that tax dollars be paid to the high cost school systems instead of me choosing and paying for a pre-school.

      Please remember that you are never going to close the achievement gap by not prioritizing. Children like mine who are 1 or 2 grades ahead in reading, writing and math do not need more school. The kids who are 1, 2 or 3 grades behind do.

      Here is an ironic situation. My girls who are AP students are given Summer homework for the next years classes. The kids in standard classes are not… Now isn’t that silly.

      • Submitted by Peter Stark on 05/18/2015 - 09:03 am.

        Preschool Costs

        According to Child Care Aware MN, average preschool cost statewide is about $11k per year for a full-year school, and about $8.5k for a 40-week school. The median family income in the state is $58k, so that means the median family would spend roughly 15% of its gross income on a 40-week preschool, or 19% on a full-year school. 15-19% of gross is an enormous expenditure, and that’s just for the median family.


        • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/18/2015 - 09:27 am.

          Apples and Oranges

          What you are talking about is child daycare, not “pre-school”. A good daycare can fullfill both roles very well. And we already help lower income families to pay for daycare.

          From what I know, a good pre-school is is about $20/day for a ~2.5 hour program. Here are some examples.

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 05/18/2015 - 11:32 am.

            We will be

            Sending our son to a three day a week preschool offered by our district next fall. The cost for those three days will equal a full week of regular in home daycare. We will still then be paying for the additional 2 days of daycare as well. Additionally as there is no bus service for preschool we will need to pay for before school care during the days he attends class as our employers won’t allow us to show up for work when we feel like it. Before you ask, yes, we shopped around for pre schools and this was by far the least expensive option. Had we gotten our preferred choice of five days a week, the cost would be greater still. All pale in comparison to the ridiculous rates charged by the “center” based education style daycare facilities in our area. So for you John, maybe this is affordable, for others not so much. But it would seem those middle class parents who wish to give their children every chance of success in a world where they will be expected to compete on the same playing field as those with unlimited resouces and access to limitless educational opportunities will again be told, too bad, huh?

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/18/2015 - 12:55 pm.


              Matt and Peter,
              1. Get a better inhome daycare if yours does not provide some basic curriculum, and skip the pre-school if it is too expensive.
              2. One of the Parents stay home to “home school” and take in another child or 2 to boost household finances. Infant care pays well.
              3. One of the Parents works second or third shift.

              Please remember that this is pre-school… Not Harvard… You are working on social, fine motor, large motor and some academic skills. Not teaching them to do algebra and read fluently.

              The unlucky kids I am worried about, the ones who fail academically have a lot bigger problems to deal with.

              What I am hearing in your comments is that typical Parents would like additional Public Funding to help them raise the children they chose to have. Is that correct?

              • Submitted by Matt Haas on 05/18/2015 - 05:49 pm.

                And what I’m hearing

                Is that some parents through the benefit of good fortune haven’t an issue paying for the beneficial pre k education they decide is best for their children. They then wish to maximize that good fortune by decreasing their tax burden at the expense of similar opportunities for those of lesser means. So much for the credo of equal opportunity, unequal results. More like “Thems that have, gets” and tough luck indeed to those that don’t.

          • Submitted by Peter Stark on 05/18/2015 - 12:24 pm.

            Median Income

            I’m not sure I understand your point. If a good daycare can fill both roles, then the numbers I quoted are the correct numbers to use. It isn’t possible for most families to have the kids in 2.5 hours of preschool a day, because both mom and dad need to work. Even granting that preschool and daycare can be separated, allowing for universal preschool would dramatically cut the costs for that median family. If you assume a typical child’s day to be 2.5 hours of preschool and 5.5 daycare, then universal preschool cuts that family’s bill by 1/3. That’s a substantial benefit for middle-class families.

            Also, the median income is not “lower income.” By definition, it is the income of the statistical middle family. Even at that statistical middle, preschool costs run from 15-19% of gross income. Costs like that make it extremely difficult for that median family to save money.

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