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Gov. Dayton, Republicans At Odds Over Pre-K Programs

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton dropped in on the kids at Expo Elementary School in St. Paul Tuesday, where he said he wants Minnesota to lead the nation in Pre-K for every family.

The Democratic governor sat on the floor with 4-year-olds, singing their "A, B, Cs" and asked questions about their school day.

"I'm Mark. What's your name?" the Governor asked, giving high-fives to young learners who wanted to know about his dogs.

"I have two dogs. Their names are Itasca and Mingo," he said.

Dayton, a Democrat, wants Minnesota to be among the first states providing free, all-day Pre-K programs to 57,000 4-year-olds.

Educators say it gives early learners a big advantage -- when they enter Kindergarten.

"Many of the Kindergarten teachers tell me:  They know the kids that have gone to Pre-K and the kids that don't," Emily Campbell, an Expo Pre-K teacher, said. "Simply from the first week of school, they come in as leaders in the class room.  They really do."

The Governor and Republican leaders agree: Pre-K programs help close the learning achievement gap between white students and students of color. But the Governor is offering Pre-K to any family, regardless of income.

Republicans target it only to children they say really need it and give parents a choice where to send their children.

"We should focus limited resources on the children that we know are at risk to falling into the achievement gap," Rep. Jennifer Loon, the Republican chair of the Minnesota House Education Finance Committee, said. "In trying to close that gap, it is more important to target quality pre-school education to those specific children, and not to children who are probably coming into kindergarten ready to learn."

Gov. Dayton will fight that concept: He says nothing is more important to him than Pre-K for everyone, regardless of income.

"If we can get that going, we will accomplish more to solve the achievement gap, which we all agree is unacceptable, than anything else that we can be doing," Gov. Dayton said.

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