In 2015, the Minnesota State Legislature passed a bipartisan education budget that puts students first, and seeks to ensure that every child in Minnesota is educated to their full potential. Unfortunately, many children from poor families begin their formal education far behind their peers. Some of them never catch up, and these children fall into the “achievement gap” that diminishes their chances of graduating from high school and being successful in their career and college plans. That’s why House Republicans pushed to invest in proven, targeted programs that reach low-income and at-risk kids to help close the gap through quality preschool education that prepares them for kindergarten. As we strive to have a strong and well-educated workforce for the future of Minnesota’s economy, it is vital that we leave no one behind.
Early childhood education is an important tool that can inspire a love of learning in young children. In addition to preparing them for kindergarten, it also gets them on the pathway to reading at grade level by grade 3, an important indicator of high school graduation. Research tells us that providing quality, early learning experiences for at-risk children is an investment that provides a high return, as more at-risk children become successful students and participants in the workforce. What’s more, in offering these early learning experiences through scholarships, parents are empowered to find the right pre-kindergarten (pre-k) program for their child.
In all, legislators invested $95 million in new money for targeted early learning programs, providing $104 million for early learning scholarships and $55 million for school readiness aid—more than doubling both of these programs. Now, just under halfway through our biennial funding cycle, the legislature is overseeing the expansion and implementation of these dollars to ensure they reach Minnesota families and help place our littlest learners on the path to academic success.
Last year, Governor Dayton made a highly-publicized push to require all-day pre-k for all Minnesota four-year-olds at our public schools. While his plan was well-intentioned, it would have proven a costly mandate for many schools who are already short on space, facility resources and transportation availability after the recent implementation of all-day kindergarten. Furthermore, it would have abandoned the scholarship model and locally developed programs that are already doing an excellent job of reaching low-income and at-risk children while preserving parent choice. And these significant concerns with his proposal don't even include the billions of dollars it would have obligated toward future state budgets. The plan was too costly and unworkable for schools and parents across the state, and that is why it was not adopted by either the Republican-led House or the DFL-led Senate last year.
State leaders share the goal of providing a top quality education for Minnesota students, as it is of vital importance to the economic health of our state and having a strong future workforce. The 2015 bipartisan E-12 legislation signed into law invests more in early learning scholarships, a successfully established method that gives families the flexibility to choose the right program for their child and will help close the achievement gap in our state. By investing in proven programs, and targeting our assistance where it is needed most, we can improve the outcomes of at-risk children and make the best use of the taxpayers’ investment in the next generation.