Principal: Pre-K dollars needed for all students

Published 10:26 am Thursday, March 30, 2017

Woodson Kindergarten Center Principal Jessica Cabeen made it clear on Tuesday that while pre-kindergarten students are the smallest of our pupils, their pathway to success needs to start early.

So, when the state principal’s association asked if she would speak for Gov. Mark Dayton’s plan to increase funding for voluntary prekindergarten, Cabeen was more than happy to travel to St. Paul.

“As a kindergarten principal I know the direct impact quality pre-kindergarten has on students transitioning to kindergarten,” she said during a press conference with the governor.

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“Because of this prekindergarten is no longer ‘nice’ but a necessity; and in the state of Minnesota, all students should be afforded to have access to voluntary pre-kindergarten,” she added.

Dayton is running headlong into opposition from House Republicans for his proposal of increasing funding to $175 million for voluntary preschool.

Initially set at $75 million, the newest state forecast, which shows an even larger surplus than first thought, prompted Dayton to propose another $100,000 for education.

Cabeen said it is money that will return its investment over and over again.



“It is incredible to watch the development — both academically and socially — of our youngest learners through voluntary pre-kindergarten. We are reaching families that without voluntary pre-kindergarten might not otherwise have access to high-quality preschool. In Austin 53 percent of the students attending voluntary pre-kindergarten qualify for free and reduced lunch; 51 percent speak languages other than English in their homes and 55 percent are students of color. Voluntary prekindergarten sends the message to these students and their families that we continue to ‘Dream Big for their Learners,’ which is a slogan used at Woodson.”

Cabeen said after the meeting that she doesn’t agree with House Education Finance Committee Chairwoman Jenifer Loon, who wants to use the funding — a much lower amount of $40 million — and target it to low-income students.

Dayton wants to expand programming already in 74 districts, to 260 students and 17,000 students; funding would help all students in that early prekindergarten year.

Cabeen agreed that the proposal would help”level the playing field,” and eliminate financial barriers for all parents.

“We know that prekindergarten is good; we want to make it great for everybody; we want to give everyone access,” she said.

She noted that parents do struggle with those costs. “And now add daycare to that … pretty soon that adds up to one salary in the household,” she said.

Cabeen said it was exciting to speak with the governor, and was impressed “to hear, on a very personal level, his passion for education.”

She said she enjoyed the time — but added with a chuckle that “I felt a little funny when I had to tell the governor I had to leave to make it back for bus duty” at Woodson.