Star Tribune

By Hunter Woodall and Briana Bierschbach

President Joe Biden's push for universal preschool and free community college is the latest transformative proposal from the new administration, this one with the potential to remake child care and education in Minnesota.

"It is putting working families and kids at the center," U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat, said of the proposals Biden rolled out Wednesday night in his first speech to a joint session of Congress. "And I think that's exactly the right thing to do."

Coming on top of the Democratic president's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package and his proposal to spend $2 trillion on an infrastructure plan, the new, $1.8 trillion American Families Plan is already facing criticism from Republicans, given the high costs and the administration's push to raise taxes on the wealthy to help pay for it.

"The President has already spent a whopping $2 trillion of money we don't have on far-left giveaways and unveiled $4 trillion in additional spending to be paid for by the hardworking taxpayer," said Republican Rep. Pete Stauber in a statement.

Biden's sweeping proposal also includes $225 billion for child care and monthly payments to parents.

Denise Specht, the president of Education Minnesota, the state's largest teachers union, said that though they're waiting on more details, "This certainly looks like a package our educators can support and work toward making a reality."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar pointed to key priorities in Biden's announcement that she shares.

"Even before this pandemic, families across the country were struggling to get by," the Minnesota Democrat said in a statement. "Exorbitant childcare, education, and healthcare costs have made providing for a family and balancing a checkbook impossible for too many."

The pandemic has hit child care providers especially hard, but Minnesota has been struggling to fund providers for much longer, said Chad Dunkley, the CEO of New Horizons Academy, the state's largest day-care provider.

Many areas of the state have no child care options and families have to choose between caring for children or staying in the workforce.

"Many families have to make very tough decisions," said Dunkley, who attended the speech virtually as Smith's guest. "I love that this plan is bigger, and it's worth it for our economy and for our country to invest in young families."

The narrow Democratic majorities in Congress mean uncertain prospects for Biden's plan and a partisan divide.

"The president painted a picture full of promise, but the reality is that under his failed leadership, we are in an America more divided than ever," Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn said in a statement after the speech.

Biden called on the divided Congress to pass police reform and urged lawmakers to reach a "consensus" by the anniversary of George Floyd's death. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering Floyd after kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. Democrats have named their police reform bill after George Floyd, but even as it passed the House, major GOP opposition remained.

"We have all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black Americans," Biden said. "Now is our opportunity to make some real progress."