By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Gov. Mark Dayton is continuing to double down on his efforts to dramatically expand funding for early childhood education.

Dayton wants to use $348 million from the budget surplus to fund universal preschool for Minnesota’s 4-year-olds.

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But critics say the money would be better spent on scholarships for at risk preschoolers.

Recently, Dayton saw his push for all-day, free kindergarten in Minnesota become a reality.

And by all accounts the program has exceeded expectations, with 99.6 percent of Minnesota kindergarteners in all day programs. That’s up from 55 percent in previous years.

But now Dayton wants to expand free all-day school to pre-K kids.

Critics are coming at the governor from all sides.

Some Republicans say free, all-day pre-K for middle income and wealthier kids is not a good use of taxpayer money.

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They want targeted scholarships for low income children.

On the other side is the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. It says the governor’s proposal needs even more funding to help school districts pay for staffing and classroom construction.

The governor insists his proposal is just right and Minnesota kids would benefit.

“I was in a preschool program last week, and to see these little four-year-olds just having a good time, learning, getting a head start on kindergarten, getting a head start on their education, it’s going to pay off, we just know that,” Dayton said.

The governor’s initial estimate is that 47,000 kids would sign up for the program.

Studies have ranked Minnesota as low as 50 among all states for access to pre-K, with only 1 percent of kids enrolled.

Compares that with Wisconsin, where 64 percent of 4-years-olds attend pre-school.

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To see a full interview with Gov. Mark Dayton, where he discusses pre-K, the budget and MNsure, watch the video above.

Esme Murphy