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Child Care Industry Cool To Free Preschool Push

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Funding all-day preschool programs at schools statewide would force Minnesota child care providers to raise their rates as 4-year-olds abandon their programs for school, industry representatives said Wednesday.

Senate Democrats listed universal preschool as a priority for this year's legislative session, and want to offer it to Minnesota families starting with the 2015 school year.

Industry representatives told the Senate E-12 Budget Division that Minnesota's roughly 9,700 licensed child care programs operate on thin margins and need revenue from families with preschool-age children. The option of free preschool will hurt child care enrollment and cause rate increases for families with younger children, said Heidi Hagel Braid, a regional director for First Children's Finance, which provides financial assistance to child care businesses serving low- and moderate-income families.

Advocates said preschool programs aligned with curriculum standards in later grades better prepare children for academic success. They also stressed that enrollment in the programs would be voluntary.

"This is a choice. It's completely optional," said Sen. John Hoffman, the Champlin Democrat sponsoring the bill that would require Minnesota to cover the cost of preschool programs.

But some research shows early learning programs focused on play and curiosity rather than academic preparation do more to set up children for success, Hollee Saville, with the Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association, told the committee.

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer questioned how the state would pay for the programming. A fiscal analysis estimated universal preschool would cost Minnesota about $416 million in its first two years.

Kiffmeyer, a Republican from Big Lake, wasn't satisfied with Hoffman's argument that early education will save the state money in the long run by narrowing the achievement gap and lowering the rates of incarceration and teen pregnancy.

The committee took no action on Hoffman's bill Wednesday.

Minnesota began offering free all-day kindergarten in September.

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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