BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) — The U.S. Secretary of Education today praised Minnesota’s new early learning programs and made a pitch to take them nationwide.

Secretary Arne Duncan visited a suburban pre-school Tuesday morning, and later held a town hall meeting, calling early education “the best investment” a state can make.

Even though Minnesota and a handful of states are making a big push for early education, Secretary Ducan said 30,000 Minnesota children still don’t have access to early learning programs.

And he said that will show up down the road in rates of higher crime, pregnancy and poverty.

At a suburban Bloomington pre-school, Education Secretary Arne Duncan sat with children enrolled in a summer learning program, using Minnesota’s pre-school programs and a Bloomington town hall meeting as backdrops to highlight a $75 billion effort by President Obama to expand pre-school programs nationwide.

“The average kindergartner who comes from a disadvantaged community, the average 5 year old starts school in the fall in September — a year to 14 months behind and then we wonder why we have achievement gaps and drop-out rates and other things,” he said.

For the first time this year, Minnesota lawmakers approved $134 million to pay for voluntary all-day kindergarten and $40 million for pre-school scholarships for low-income families.

Duncan said studies show a 7-to-1 return on every public dollar spent on early ed.

“So for every dollar that we invest, we as a country give back $7 in less crime, less teenage pregnancy, less incarceration, more folks entering the work force,” Duncan said.

If the President’s pre-school plan is approved, Duncan said the state would receive $38 million to fund pre-school for 30,000 more children, many of them poor.

“I would argue this is the civil rights issue of our generation,” he said.

The hefty price tag on President Obama’s pre-school program — $75 billion — is causing sticker shot in Washington.

A spokesman for Minnesota Republican Congressman John Kline, who’s chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, says Kline is worried about more debt.

Especially “with a number of programs with similar goals already in place — including Head Start, the Child Care and Development Block Grant and dozens of state preschool programs nationwide.”

For parents who want their children in kindergarten, this is a very big deal. It is statewide, it is voluntary. And it starts in the fall of 2014.


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