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Minnesota Launching Free, All-Day Kindergarten

All Minnesota families will be entitled to free full-day kindergarten as of 2014—and many will even be offered scholarships for preschool, depending upon their income levels—under a new law signed by Gov. Mark Dayton earlier this week.

Previously, a half-day option was offered by the state, but parents paid out-of-pocket for full-day kindergarten, which cost thousands of dollars annually.

"All-day kindergarten should have happened years ago; we're catching up and we're moving ahead," Dayton, a Democrat, said in a statement. "This is money well spent, and I think Minnesotans will know that and believe it."

According to the governor's office, the plan was funded in an omnibus budget bill that included $2.1 billion for education from new tax hikes levied on the upper class, smokers, and businesses.

The bill also provided $40 million for preschool scholarships for 8,000 low- and middle-class families and $234 million in additional "basic" K-12 education money.

Dayton argued that half of all kindergartners enter the K-12 system unprepared to learn and that the early-childhood education changes would kick-start their school careers.

Furthermore, he said he hopes full-day kindergarten will help close the state's achievement gap, as Minnesota ranks 49th among 50 states.

"This is the most significant investment in years in a proven strategy for raising the academic achievement of all Minnesota students," added Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, a statewide teachers' union, which is affiliated with the Washington-based National Education Association.

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