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Minnesota Governor, Lawmakers in Budget Showdown Over Pre-K

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is threatening to veto state legislators' education budget bill if they don't include an additional $150 million for universal preschool.

"I'll say it again, and I'll say it again, and I'll say it again: I'm going to veto [the bill] because it's wrong for the people of Minnesota," the Democratic governor told reporters Saturday, according to the Associated Press. "If they're going to force a special session, it's their doing, not mine."

The budget Dayton is threatening to veto includes $400 million extra for public schools in the state's new (July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2017) two-year budget cycle, but not as much as he'd like to see going for early education. As we've reported, Dayton's plan to provide universal preschool has been a sticking point for him with legislators and policymakers for both parties. 

The legislative session is set to end today, Monday, May 18, by midnight. Gov. Dayton will have three days to issue a veto. If he does, the state house and senate would have to come back together for a special session. If no agreement is reached, there could be serious consequences for the rest of the state's education system. 

"Budget officials have also said that without the education bill, the state [department of education] would be closed, schools would have to fire teachers, and teacher licenses would not be issued," according to The Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Upping the ante, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan weighed in this week, writing to a couple of state legislators to urge them to approve Dayton's plan, according The St. Paul Pioneer Press.

"With a significant state budget surplus, you have the rare and enviable opportunity to change the opportunity structure for children, for generations to come," Duncan wrote, according the Press story.

Minnesota found itself with an unexpected surplus at the start of this year's legislative session and the question of how, or whether, to spend that money has been on everyone's lips since.

If Dayton gets his way, Minnesota would be only the second state, plus the District of Columbia, to offer (and fund) truly universal preschool for 4-year-old children regardless of income.

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