ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton’s drive for universal, tuition-free preschool for all Minnesota 4-year-olds is cementing its place in his bottom line for a new budget.

Dayton emphasized Tuesday that he considers the program essential as budget negotiations near. He got down to eye-level with youngsters in a St. Paul public school program and heard from teachers about the value of pre-kindergarten classes in readying children for education success.

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Early education appears to be a shared Capitol priority this year. The debate is over the scope and setting.

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Dayton’s $343 million plan favors public school-based learning programs. Legislative Republicans are considering less money that is poured instead into need-based scholarships that can be used in several types of programs. Dayton says there is room to both given a $1.9 billion surplus.

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