On shapes and letters, sound and fury

Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL-MN) issues statement that he will veto legislative deal that fails to fund his early childhood program. Lt. Gov. Tina Smith looks on. PHOTO: Screenshot from YouTube via governor's office

Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL-MN) issues statement that he will veto legislative deal that fails to fund his early childhood program. Lt. Gov. Tina Smith looks on. PHOTO: Screenshot from YouTube via governor’s office

Today, the Minnesota’s legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton remain in a standoff over education funding. GOP House Speaker and DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk announced a comprehensive budget agreement in principle late last week, but they neglected to ensure that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton would sign the deal. That prospect is now in doubt.

Dayton’s well-quoted statement of response on Saturday made his position clear:

“On E-12, I’ll say it again, and I’ll say it again, and I’ll say it again: I’m going to veto $400 million because it’s wrong for the people of Minnesota, the parents of Minnesota, the schoolchildren of Minnesota. It’s wrong. It’s totally unnecessary with a $1 billion bottom line and the $300 million coming down the pike.

They are saving that money for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, and property tax relief for large corporations. They are putting those as higher priorities than doing what’s right for our school children and our young children. I’m just astonished that anyone would consider that. I’m sure as heck astounded that any Democrat would consider that.”

While Dayton, Daudt and Bakk appear to have a sense of agreement on many other aspects of the budget, Dayton is sticking to his word to defend his plan to offer voluntary preschool to all kids in Minnesota. Essentially, he wants $150 million of the money now being deferred to possible tax breaks or other spending next year to be allocated to education now.

It’s rather jarring to see a governor go to the wall over education funding after eight years of watching former Gov. Tim Pawlenty do the same over tax cuts. And as a person who generally believes education to be a better long term investment than cutting taxes for people who already have money, I’m pleased. I understand, of course, there are those who feel differently.

But what I’d like to share briefly today is some personal perspective held apart from my political opinion. We have three elementary school-aged children not long separated from the bustling world of preschool and ECFE classes. Some of our children needed special education services which they also received in a pre-school environment.

My wife is a stay-at-home mom who does a lot of volunteering at our kids’ school (I do some, but not as much) and we got to know some of the kids’ teachers, other families and other kids over the years. Here are the observations we have gathered from this experience:

  • Elementary school is harder and more important than it was for us in the 1980s. Kids need to do more and accomplish academic competencies very early in their schooling in order to keep up. No, kids don’t have to work the farms or factories, but they need to read words in their fifth year of life.
  • Preschool is what kindergarten used to be. It’s the early introduction to learning that helps kids leave home and relate to others. It’s also where kids who need extra help are identified. We have a son on the autism spectrum who received early intervention because we attended ECFE. We went through many hard times and hard work to get him ready for school, and now he is going to middle school next year as a confident boy with friends and abilities, who will likely never need services again for the rest of his life. He’s excited about going to school, talks about getting a job, a house and a truck someday. If he had gone to kindergarten without this help I doubt that would be true today.
  • The difference in school readiness between kids who had some kind of preschool and kids who had none is blazingly stark on Day 1, and those differences rarely go away over time. We’re not elementary teachers and we could see the differences ourselves. Attitudes about learning and school are hardened early on, and with high stakes testing happening in the early grades now, unprepared students learn that school is something to be endured, not something that can help them.
  • We all know what skills we want people to have in the workforce, right? People complain that young people don’t relate as well as the previous generation, problems with eye contact and reliability, attitudes and behaviors. Well, those are all things that are taught in preschool, which stand a better chance of being retained if all children know about them. Education for some, but not all, is injustice. It’s also deeply counterproductive and expensive down the line for those who prefer to think of the financial angles.

It probably bears mentioning that I’m a college teacher. We are middle class. We are two parents who keep a stable home environment. We have supportive grandparents. All of these factors are relative luxuries in Northern Minnesota, though probably everywhere else as well. I grew up under grittier conditions, but early education — including a mom who taught me to read at age 4 — was a huge difference-maker for me. I see that this remains true for my sons’ peers.

There are no Republican or Democratic 4-year-olds. These kids are just raw humanity, vessels seeking meaning in a very confusing world. Same now as it ever was. If we expect these children to understand, operate, code and improve the machinery of the next century in just 20 years, why on Earth wouldn’t we close the preschool gap now? Especially because we absolutely could. The money is right there.

Wherever possible I like my political beliefs to be informed by real experiences and interactions with actual people not paid to run campaigns or spout opinions. In this instance, I believe that Daudt and Bakk’s compromise is informed by the limited scope of partisan political negotiations, and that Dayton’s plan is informed by what actually affects people.

I’m with the governor on this one.


  1. Carol Just says

    Well said, Minnesota Brown. I will share this on social media because it articulates what I, as a grandmother, believe to be true.

  2. David Gray says

    It is evidence of Governor Dayton’s status as the personal butler of Education Minnesota that he is prepared to veto this bipartisan budget agreement which significantly increases education funding.

  3. Couldn’t disagree more. Kindergarten was going to level the playing field for 6 yr old 1st graders. That didn’t work so now Pre-K is going to level the field for 5 yr olds. In fifty yrs (same time table as Kindergarten) they will say that we need Pre-Pre K and get 3 yr olds in school or they won’t be successful in life. You spend 13 of your 1st 18 yrs on earth in public schools, if you can’t get the job done in that time maybe take a look at HOW we are teaching our children not how long we are teaching our children.

    This is a Teachers Union payback sold as “i’m only helping our poor children who we need in school at an earlier age”. More money is not the answer. Utah spends less per student than most states and has one of the highest graduation rates and standardized test scores. Baltimore spends 3 times what Utah spends with no results. Typical liberal thinking more money and more exposure to our kids is the answer to education. You have 13 yrs and hundreds of millions of dollars now, do something with it!

    • Oooh! Better standardized test scores in Utah. Being able to, for a short time, regurgitate pointless facts at the cost of actually learning how to think, how to do things, will certainly help those students achieve more once they graduate from school.

      Yes. More money in education is necessary (presuming you want the United States’ education to improve, rather than crumble even further.) But more importantly, we need to make changes to the way we teach. Stop letting a legislature that understands absolutely nothing about education dictate everything about how our educational system works. Ditch the standardized tests. Ditch the need for small kids to sit still. Teach by letting them play. Staff our schools like Finland does (three adults per 20 students). Teach critical thinking. Begin education even earlier than what we would call Pre-K. These are things that are shown, world-round, to improve education, and yet people keep trying to move us further away from them.

  4. David Gray says

    >>Being able to, for a short time, regurgitate pointless facts at the cost of actually learning how to think, how to do things, will certainly help those students achieve more once they graduate from school.

    Spoken like someone who doesn’t understand education. For the mind to function it needs facts to consider and manipulate. Yes, it would be better, in a way, if standardized testing could measure more than it does. All it is measuring is the basics.

  5. Ranger47 says

    Aaron…Time after time, your solution to any “problem” is more money. For over 10 years now, on any issue you’ve written about, your answer is simply more money. That’ll fix it. And it’s always with other people’s money, not yours. Amazing.

  6. Scratching my head, Ranger. How is our taxpayer money “other people’s money” and not Aaron’s or Jack’s or Jill’s or any MN taxpayer’s money? Amazing.

    Your punctuation marks around “problem” implies you don’t believe there are any that need more money. Is there any problem you would approve of getting more funding with your money?

    It’s not just governments that shell out more money to invest in improvements for future benefits. Businesses do it all the time.

  7. Ranger47 says

    Kissa – – Aaron’s assumed “problem” is that government isn’t doing enough for 0-4 year olds. Show me the data that says government agencies are the best suited to raise our 0-4 year-olds. What a crock of B.S. Take a look around.

    The DFL’ers have been raising our kids in Detroit, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Miami, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Newark…need I go on, for over 50 years now. How are those kids turning out??

    And you want me to willingly have the Dayton’s of the world not only indoctrinate my grandkids from K-12 but now in their formative first 4 years?? No way kissa, no way. A community raising a child is no substitute for a married man and women doing so. Look at the data.

  8. Ranger47 says

    Oh kissa….you ask – “Is there any problem you would approve of getting more funding with your money?” The question you should ask yourself is – “is there any government program that requires less money?”

    Provide me with that answer and I’ll guide you to which government programs should get more.

  9. Bob — Paragraphs 1 and 2 are red herrings. No time for that. Your last paragraph is troubling. You think public education is indoctrination? You think the education that prepares our workforce and lifts people out of their station based on their abilities is indoctrination? It’s indoctrination in the sense that our whole lives are indoctrination — including our parents, our churches or our little league team. If you believe that schools have no purpose, we have nothing to discuss. As Kissa said, if you don’t want to acknowledge the disparities that I talked about here, well, why bother talking about it? What’s the point of us being here right now? In the comments section of a lightly-read blog?

    You must understand that your extreme combination of libertarianism and religious fundamentalism is far more historically radical that anything I espouse. Our country was built on schools and community. You do know that a lot of kids you’re throwing under the bus here don’t have two parents. And that’s not THEIR fault.

    You don’t agree. Fine. Can’t we just let that be? Obviously, if your views are so much superior to mine, the people will adopt them in droves and I will be relegated to the dust bin of history. Oh, woe is me.

    • David Gray says

      If people are using the word “fundamentalism” in the way it has been historically used you would have a point. But I believe you are using it as now popularly used. By that standard “fundamentalism” is the historical norm in this country. Nothing radical about it. If you meant the more technical and appropriate use of the term then I’ll agree with you.

      • Well, there’s no arguing the Christian fundamentalism of the puritans. And religious fervor and belief are woven through much of America’s cultural history (though not exclusively). I do think the way in which one’s religious beliefs have become intertwined with their position on, say, *economic* policy, or even immigration or what-have-you, that’s the kind of radicalism I’m talking about. Big suburban churches are selling conservative beliefs not only on matters related to social issues, which one can understand, but also on matters related to tax policy, the value of community and the role of the individual, etc. That concerns me. But then again it would, wouldn’t it. 🙂

        • David Gray says

          Fundamentalism, historically, was a subset of American Protestantism with the use of the word being traced back to the four volume set, edited by R.A. Torrey, entitled “The Fundamentals.” Fundamentalists did not drink, swear, generally dance or play cards. They were fervently anti-Roman Catholic. They also were generally disengaged from the political culture although that changed with Jerry Falwell in the 1970s and he was denounced by many fundamentalists for it.

          The Puritans were not fundamentalists. For one thing they enjoyed alcohol.

          The modern and debased use of the term describes pretty much any orthodox Christian as a “fundamentalist.” When you see someone referring to Roman Catholic fundamentalists you know that you aren’t in Kansas any more. By the modern use of the term Princeton Seminary was in the hands of “fundamentalists” less than a century ago. Harvard was founded by “fundamentalists.” This is a bit of what I was hinting at.

          I don’t see that many people overtly tying economic policy to theology or to immigration policy, excepting the rather ordinary notion that the law should be obeyed. Any church expending its time on tax policy has forgotten why they are there. Now one could make an argument that certain sorts of tax policy are wicked, based on Christian theology but that is an argument for Christian economists and politicians to make, not churches. As C.S. Lewis observed there should be Christian literature but it should not be the product of pastors and bishops trying to write plays and novels.


  10. Ranger47 says

    Aaron…”paragraphs 1 and 2 are red herrings”?? Are you kidding me? Look at what’s happened in cities where Democrats have had full control of their police, fire, education & tax systems for five plus decades. How have those kids turned out? And you think giving them more money, more power over our kids is wise?? My God Aaron!

    • Yes, red herrings. You want to bemoan predominantly African American, poverty-stricken cities because of their Democratic voting habits without talking about the poverty or industrial abandonment that got them in that situation. And you don’t want to talk about the meth of Appalachia or the scads of social and economic problems found in the Bible Belt, even though they elect Republicans. You want a big argument about a distracting, partisan issue of your choosing, when it has little to do with our state’s political history or current situation. You are trolling, Bob. Same as always.

      • David Gray says

        If you look at a place like Detroit it was doing considerably better when Democrats began ruling the area. NYC made a come back but that was when a Republican was elected as mayor. Republicans are far from perfect but generally Democratic Party rule in cities has been a disaster, objectively.

        • Detroit was doing better when it was producing the whole world’s automobile supply. It started doing crappy when it wasn’t. Party rule is immaterial to the question. You find corruption and failure in both parties, always pushed along by desperation, ideological extremism and economic collapse. But we digress.

  11. Ranger47 says

    Yes Aaron…schools, public or private play a fundamental role in educating our kids (reading, writing and arithmetic), but not indoctrinating them as we’ve evolved to, and certainly not raising them as you’d like.
    That simply doesn’t work…as I’ve already stated with facts. Look around. To raise kids you need “parents…churches”. If you think otherwise, just look around. How good a job is Hibbing, NK or Greenway high schools doing in raising those kids from single parent family homes?

  12. Ranger47 says

    There you go Aaron, race baiting. I never once mention African Americans, Polish Americans or Finnish Americans. That’s not the problem. Nor is it the “woe is me, industrial abandonment (WTF is that?)” you refer to. Change, whether social, economic or political has gone on since the beginning of time. To blame our kids condition on a chop stick factory closing? Now THAT’s a red herring…

    • Either you knew what you were doing by mentioning those cities, or you didn’t and you’re that clueless about your ideological obsession. Either way I see no point in trying to convince you of anything. This conversation has no value. Already you’ve invoked new elements to the original debate that are completely unrelated. This literally could go on forever, as it does whenever I give you the satisfaction of a reply.

  13. How can anybody claim the public school system is doing a good job when graduation rates are dropping and basic math, reading and writing skills are declining. I can’t understand how liberals feel getting children at 4 is going to correct any gap they are trying to close between good and bad students. If it was possible to close that gap it would be done from ages 5-18 with the hundreds of millions of dollars we throw at public education now.
    I agree with Ranger 47 on the indoctrination problem in public schools. My grandchildren had an assignment to read a story about a family of 2 moms and 2 kids and find 5 positive facts that non traditional families have over a traditional mother/father families. What garbage is that. They are trying to promote a point of view the teacher may hold but parents may not. What happened to doing a paper on the different topography of the state and learning how the glaciers formed 2 distinct different land forms plus a transition zone. Something I remember til today.

    • What happened to Cookie Monster? Know what I mean? Everyone’s all Bert and Ernie now and Cookie Monster is demonized.

      • Cookie Monster is a true American. I stand with him. One Man (monster). All the Cookies.

        • C-O-O-K-I-E-S!

          There is a bit here regarding trolls. What if there were a sketch with two people having a conversation and a third guy kept randomly interjecting angry off the subject theories.

          Or what if it was a classroom. A teacher is giving a normal lesson. One student would occasionally explode into wild fantastical off the subject rants. Basically everyone else would have to carry on as normal except the teacher would sometimes have to be like, “OK Timmy. That’s interesting Timmy.”

          Seems funny.

  14. Ranger, I’m puzzled how schools are “indoctrinating” kids and to WHAT? I’ve never been afeared of my kids being “indoctrinated” to anything but learning. They managed to grow up well educated due to some awesome teachers, went on to satisfying careers and darn nice adults. If there is something horrible our kids are being “indoctrinated” into, I sure would like to know what it is so I could warn other parents and grandparents what to be on the lookout for.

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