It doesnt take 5 year old Demarco Campbell very long to find the letter “E” as he flips through magazines.
He found one, cut it out and glued it on a sheet of paper where he spelled out his name. For good measure, he also added a photo of an iguana.
Spelling his name, sounding out letters and simple math come easy for Demarco, a bubbly little boy who’s enrolled in the Bloomington school district’s KinderPrep program.
About 92 percent of 130 students enrolled in KinderPrep last year showed up prepared for kindergarten last fall. That’s about 20 percentage points higher than the statewide average. Most KinderPrep students are poor, minority children; some are just learning English.
Many of Minnesota’s top educators believe such early-education opportunities hold the key to eliminating the state’s achievement gap between white students and students of color.
“The research is so doggone clear,” said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “It’s so much harder to play catch-up once you get them into the system than it is to ensure they’re off to a good start.”
The push to expand early education both nationally and in Minnesota is picking up momentum after years of debate about the level of dividends paid by preschool.
For example, Minnesota legislators recently approved funding increases for state school-readiness programs and early childhood family education classes, the first real bumps for those initiatives in more than a decade.
Most notably, Gov. Mark Dayton — a former teacher — said in his annual State of the State address in April that he wants to make high-quality early education affordable for every 3- and 4-year-old by 2018.
It’s a lofty goal. In 2012, Minnesota spent about $500 million a year in state and federal funds to provide child development and early education services for 84,000 children, leaving 72,000 children unserved, according to research by the Wilder Foundation. Furthermore, cuts to the federal Head Start program have created a waiting list of about 5,500 of the Minnesota’s poorest kids.