MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For the first time in Minnesota, free all-day kindergarten is available to students across the state.

Gov. Mark Dayton welcomed students at Garden City Elementary in Brooklyn Center Tuesday morning on their first day of school.

It’s estimated that 54,000 kindergartners in Minnesota are enrolled in all-day kindergarten.

In the past, parents have paid anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 a year for all-day enrollment.

“I think it will give kids that otherwise start with disadvantage a chance to get caught up before they even get started,” Dayton said.

Education leaders believe this will have a positive impact on the state’s achievement gap, and help students with the transition into first grade.

For parents like Karla Palmersheim, this is an opportunity for their children that they couldn’t provide before.

Her daughter Evelyn is starting all-day kindergarten at Eisenhower Elementary in Hopkins.

“We have our new backpack and our new shoes, and we’ve just been talking about what school’s going to be like,” Palmersheim said. “She’s very, very excited. She’s so ready.”

At Tuesday’s orientation, Evelyn met her teacher, chose her seat and got a brief glimpse at what a full day of school will be like.

In the past it cost $3,500 for a full day, and it was competitive to get in.

“We aren’t a family that can afford preschool and wouldn’t be able to afford full-day daycare and full-day kindergarten, so this is huge for us to be able to have this opportunity for her to learn,” she said.

Eisenhower expanded its all-day kindergarten from one to three classes this year because of the change.

Gretchen Pass taught two half-day classes last year. This year, she’ll be able to expose her students to more subjects like Spanish and social studies, and have more time to focus on literacy and social skills.

But with a full day and a full class of 23 kindergartners, Pass says they’ll need some down time, too.

“Building up stamina to a full day will be a challenge for some kids. It’s a long day for a 5-year-old,” Pass said. “I made a joke earlier that we’ll have quiet time for a little bit, and I might lay down too [laughs].”

The state is paying an estimated $134 million to fund all-day kindergarten.

Across the state, 95 percent of all kindergartners are going to school all day.

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