U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was in Bloomington, Minn., on Tuesday for a personal tour of early childhood classrooms, followed by a public town hall discussion with Gov. Mark Dayton at Kennedy High School.
During the Kennedy High School discussion, Sec. Duncan called early childhood education "the civil rights issue of our generation" and said the starting salaries of teachers to be increased "dramatically."
FUNDING THE FIRST 5
The visit coincides with two major education initiatives: Minnesota's K-12 education funding shift and President Obama's proposal to increase funding for early childhood education programs.
The state budget signed into law by Gov. Dayton this year invests heavily in education and seeks to provide $40 million over the next two years to fully fund all-day kindergarten by 2014. The plan would also repay all debts lingering from the school funding shifts in the next two years.
Under President Obama's education spending proposal, Minnesota is estimated to receive $38.7 million in the first year it participates in the Preschool for All program, which would provide tuition-free public preschool to every four-year-old child. The proposal requires an estimated state match of $3.9 million.
MINNESOTA NEEDS HELP WITH GAP
Minnesota has one of the worst achievement gaps in the country. Low-income and minority students do not perform as well as their affluent white peers.
Currently, there are 6,300 students waiting to get involved in Head Start in Minnesota and nearly 36,000 are on the waiting list for the state's Child Care Assistance Program.
Jody Bohrer is an early education teacher in Bloomington who works one-on-one with students who often don't speak English with their parents at home and are often not ready for kindergarten by the time they are 5 years old. She described early education programs as "vital."
"Many of our students need English vocabulary because a lot of them speak a different language at home," she explained. "So, we start with vocabulary, but then we also do letter names and letter sounds because those are all skills that are needed in beginning to read."
Kindergarten preparation has been proven to work at the Bloomington School District. Students who had been through "kinderprep" scored significantly higher on basic math skills than those who had not, and the language scores nearly doubled.
Furthermore, students who are learning English as a second language and did not attend a kinderprep program scored just 63 percent on math and 67 percent in reading skills. Those who did go through early education programs saw a big jump: 84 percent on math and 96 percent on reading.
Yet, Minnesota is not the only state struggling with an education gap, and that's why Duncan joined in the classroom to help make Minnesota's strategy part of the nation's lesson plan.
SEC. DUNCAN'S AGENDA
Classroom tour at Early Childhood Center
Town hall discussion at Kennedy High School on the importance of investing in early learning programs.
Q&A session at National Network of State Teachers of the Year National Conference, at the Millennium Hotel Minneapolis.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Minnesota National Guard has a major interest in early childhood education. Maj. Gen. Richard Nash told FOX 9's Tim Blotz that only 30 percent of current high school students meet the military's standards.
During a roundtable discussion, representatives from Target Corporation also warned that failing grades will impact the nation's economy.
"We know that students not reading proficiently by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school," Laysha Ward said. "We know those are the facts."