A budget surplus in the Minnesota state government is being turned into big changes for early childhood education.

On Tuesday, Minn. Governor Tim Walz announced his office’s plan to focus state infrastructure improvements on increasing child care options, Head Start, free meals in public schools, and an action plan for increasing literacy rates.

The recommendations from Gov. Walz’s office mean that the expanded child care and preschool options would make space for 23,000 children, making it easier for thousands of parents to work better jobs or pursue further education. Preschool also has long-term positive effects on educational outcome, including higher graduation rates and even generational college graduate rates.

Perhaps most valuable is the proposed $77 million to go to mental health care for students.

“We know that children do not come in pieces… we are also investing in a student mental health and free meals for all students in participating public schools,” Lieutenant Governor Flanagan said. “I’ve seen firsthand how kids and how families can endure losses big and small… Our systems have not led to the equitable outcome that we’re looking for… that is what this budget does.”

The total price tag of Gov. Walz’s list of recommendations is approximately $5 billion. Other inclusions are waivers for college application fees, and an endowment to cover free meals for all public school students.

“Minnesota needs to be the best state in the country for families to raise their children and we believe this budget does that,” said Walz.

His opponents call the educational proposal “the wrong direction,” criticizing it as being ‘one-size-fits-all’ and too heavy-handed.

“A bureaucratic, government-run, one-size-fits-all program that taxes main street businesses and their employees is not the answer to meet the individual needs of parents and caregivers,” said Republican Sen. Julia Coleman.

The announcement of the budget surplus and its recommendations coincides with the next legislative session, which is upcoming next week.

Photo: Justin Berken / Shutterstock