Gov. candidates discuss early education policy

By April DeJarlais

Minnesota gubernatorial candidates Senator Mark Dayton (DFL) and Tom Horner (IP) appeared on campus in Weyerhaeuser Chapel Tuesday for a conversation on the state’s investments in early childhood education.The event was sponsored by the Ready 4 K organization, which is chaired by Macalester Professor Andrew Overman. Ready 4 K emphasizes the access of quality early education for low-income students and the importance of parents in readying children mentally, physically and emotionally for school.

“There is no more crucial issue for the future of our state than early education,” Overman said.

Ready 4 K president Todd Otis (coincidentally a high school hockey rival of Dayton) introduced the candidates, and Star Tribune editorial writer Denise Johnson moderated.

Horner and Dayton spoke with Johnson separately, each answering the same three questions for which they had time to prepare along with ten randomly chosen questions submitted by the audience.

The three primary questions concerned the ways in which parents can support their children during early childhood, along with raising the quality of early education and the funding behind such improvements.

Horner called for an investment in stronger families, and provided an outline for strengthening health care, opportunities for skill development in two-year schools, and supportive services rather than family shelter funding. He proposed “new money” for programs in innovative educational techniques and stabilizing the state budget through consumption rather than income taxes, a main disagreement point between him and Dayton.

He acknowledged that the No Child Left Behind Act revealed achievement gaps in the state, but overall denounced it as leaving students unmotivated and said that teachers’ “hands are tied” as to choice in educational methods.

The overall theme of Horner’s rhetoric as well as policy details revolved around streamlining education into a “lifetime process” for students as well as “being a different kind of government than we’ve had,” he said.

Dayton agreed with Horner about the importance of early childhood education in most of his responses, but differed on policy methods. He advocated for increasing public investment by enacting an income tax that would require the top four percent of state earners to contribute more to education.

Dayton’s arguments were leveraged with personal stories and anecdotes instead of Horner’s method of detailing policy plans. In lieu of personally specifying methods he referred to having “experts” working with him on educational issues. He cited an experience with a family providing daycare in Minneapolis whose income equated to 50 percent of minimum wage as support for the planned income tax.

“I couldn’t demand more [financially] from poor families,” he said.

Like Horner he stressed the vision of education as a “continuum”, and when asked to place importance on pre-kindergarten education or K-12 curriculum, refused to differentiate. He also supported creativity and the specialization of talents in early education rather than lumping students together.

“We need to teach how they [children] are valuable, not [just] how valuable they are,” Dayton said.

Dayton appeared earlier Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden at a rally in the Leonard Center with over 1,000 attendees. Natalie Pavalatos ’12 wrote that Dayton’s words at the rally were a “pretty standard stump speech I think, but it was nice to hear him talk about education a bit.”

The audience in Weyerhaeuser was more intimate at roughly 100, and comprised mostly non-Macalester community members. St. Paul native Hannah Longley ’11 attended out of interest in pursuing education as a career.

“St. Paul Public Schools are in a lot of danger,” she said. “I was unimpressed with Dayton..I’m looking for someone who is researching it [educational policy].”

Minnesota gubernatorial elections will be held Tues., Nov. 2.