MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Just one day after Gov. Mark Dayton visited a St. Paul pre-kindergarten class, his fellow Democrats passed a bill with only a fraction of the funding he wants to send every 4-year-old in Minnesota to school for free.

The chair of the education committee sounded apologetic about not doing more.

“We’re very aware and supportive of the need for additional funds. And for those of you encouraging that, you’re singing to the choir,” DFL Sen. Chuck Wiger said.

Dayton says he won’t compromise on his $343 million for universal Pre-K for 4-year-olds.

Senate Democrats are proposing $70 million in early education programs, but not only Pre-K, and not free.

House Republicans are proposing even less: $40 million.

Dayton says he’s astonished Minnesota lawmakers are “walking away” from Pre-K, describing it as far-reaching tax relief for parents who save thousands of dollars a year in child care costs.

“You want to talk about putting money in the pockets of middle-class Minnesotans? This goes way beyond any tax cut that’s been proposed,” Dayton said.

Last year, Minnesota schools began offering free, all-day kindergarten in the state.

Dayton says nearly 100 percent of the state’s 5-year-olds are now attending.

A spokeswoman for DFL Senator Wiger says the bill provides a certain amount of no-cost programming.

“The $70 million into school readiness the Senate has in our bill calls for 550 hours of free programming per school year. Schools would not be able to charge for that first 550 hours, if they decide to offer more programming than that, then they would have the option of charging a sliding fee,” according to Amelia Cerling, Communications Specialist with the Senate DFL Majority Caucus.

Pat Kessler

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