Area Pre-K Draws Visit, Debate

April 20, 2017 07:39 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- It's a program designed to give some of our youngest learners a leg up on kindergarten.

In one area school district, it's doing just that.


But funding it has become a hot-button issue in St. Paul.

"Research shows that the best way we can close the achievement gap is to get kids educated at the earliest level," said Dr. Mike Funk, Superintendent of Albert Lea Schools.

It's a voluntary program helping 100 four-year-olds develop their academic and people skills. On Thursday, they got to demonstrate what they've learned for Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith.

The Albert Lea school district received $818,000 from the state legislature last year to offer the program.

"At Halverson Elementary School we saw that the voluntary pre-kindergarten program is a resounding succes,s" Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith told us.

More than three-fourths of the students at Halverson qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

"So we have kids who are definitely in need of extra assistance financially and from an education angle, and the earlier we can get them started the better off we're going to be," Superintendent Dr. Mike Funk said.

But because of funding limitations, 60% of the schools that applied for pre-k grants last year didn't get them.

"Right now in Minnesota only about 50% of children enter kindergarten really ready to learn," Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith explained.

This year, the Dayton administration has proposed funding all requests for pre-k programs in the state. But the Governor's office says Republicans who control the Minnesota House have proposed eliminating the program.

Republican State Representative Jennifer Loon, who chairs the House Education Finance Committee says the Republicans' education funding plan includes $40 million in enhanced school readiness aid so school districts like Albert Lea "can either continue voluntary pre-k programs or fund other early education needs".

"By having this voluntary pre-k we are really meeting the needs of our students much earlier," Albert Lea Superintendent Dr. Mike Funk said.


Dan Conradt

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