MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Minnesota on Tuesday and called the state a model for others.

He announced that the White House has named Minneapolis a “Promise Zone,” means the city can get a leg up on the competition when applying for federal grants that create jobs and help close the achievement gap.

Gov. Mark Dayton used the announcement to highlight his top priority — universal pre-K for Minnesota’s 4-year-olds.

The governor knows he has a long way to go with lawmakers if he wants to see universal pre-K become a reality. That’s why he enlisted the help of the country’s highest education official.

“If we’re serious about closing the achievement gap, we have to close what I call the opportunity gap,” Duncan said.

The governor says Minnesota ranks 50th in the nation for access to all-day pre-K learning.

Duncan says Minnesota’s big budget surplus puts the state in a unique spot compared to other states.

“Once in a while, places have the opportunity to go from near the bottom to the top nationally, you guys have that chance, and I hope you take advantage of it,” he said.

Dayton is proposing a $343 million investment he says would eventually help 57,000 students get access to free, all-day pre-K.

But Republican’s don’t think the governor’s plan is viable.

“You talk to schools, they don’t have the room or the teachers, and $340 million simply falls short,” said Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls).

Kresha, who serves on the Education Finance Committee, says a more targeted approach would be more effective.

The Republican House bill includes $30 million in increased funding for early learning scholarships for the most at-risk children.

Duncan says lower rates of teen pregnancy and incarceration would be just a couple ways the investment could payoff.

He says he can’t promise there would any federal funding to help Minnesota make universal pre-K happen.

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