Educators argue for statewide all-day kindergarten


Educators made their case Thursday in the House for funding all-day kindergarten statewide.

The House Education Finance Committee held hearings on two bills, HF105 and HF821, that would invest $185 million a year in voluntary all-day kindergarten.

The state currently funds half-day kindergarten, though some districts have chosen to offer full-day programs. Just over half of Minnesota’s kindergarten-aged students attend free all-day kindergarten, according to the Education Department. The rest go to half-day or every-other-day programs, some of which are paired with fee-based programs that fill out the rest of the school day.

In addition to charging fees, districts are allowed to hold registration lotteries for full-day kindergarten. But free all-day kindergarten should be available to all children, said Sen. Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley), who sponsors the Senate companion of HF105. “We need to eliminate the waiting lists. We need to eliminate the fees that are charged. We need to eliminate the lottery systems.”

All-day kindergarten would be voluntary for both school districts and families, Clausen said.

Clausen and several other educators who testified said that research shows benefits to children who attend all-day kindergarten.

Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, is skeptical. “I think, in fact, there’s a good bit of research suggesting that there aren’t really sustainable benefits to all-day kindergarten academically, (and) that there may well be some negative outcomes,” said Prichard, who also cited several studies. “I think these are important questions to consider when you’re looking to spend millions of dollars expanding all-day kindergarten.”

Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed budget would partially fund all-day kindergarten in fiscal year 2015.

Rep. JoAnn Ward (DFL-Woodbury) sponsors HF105, and Rep. Connie Bernardy (DFL-Fridley) sponsors HF821. The bills are similar, but HF821 includes language that would allow districts to spend general education revenue on extended-time kindergarten and prekindergarten programs. The bill would also allow districts that find they are meeting community needs for full-day kindergarten to use revenue generated for that purpose to go toward prekindergarten programs.

Both bills were laid over by the committee for possible inclusion in the omnibus education finance bill.

Both bills have Senate companions. HF821 is paired with SF162, which is sponsored by Sen. Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury). Clausen sponsors SF2. Those bills have been heard in the E-12 Division of the Senate Finance Committee and laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.