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More children could be eligible for early learning opportunities this summer

House Photography file photo

To help young kids overcome pandemic-related setbacks and get up to speed for school this fall, Gov. Tim Walz has proposed funding increases to expand preschool opportunities this summer. 

The House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee received an informational overview of Walz’s proposals pertaining to young children during its meeting Tuesday.

House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee 02/16/21

The administration’s proposal includes $36 million for a summer package that would support school-age care, summer school, youth wrap-around programming, and access to high-quality child care services and supports, according to Bobbie Burnham, assistant education commissioner for the Office of Teaching and Learning.

Nearly $16 million of that would be paid for using federal COVID-19 relief funds. Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), the committee chair, introduced an amendment to HF5 that would appropriate the remaining $20 million to provide grants for high-quality early learning opportunities to 4- and 5-year-olds.

Low-income and underserved children would be targeted for grants that would need to be used in a three- or four-star-rated private preschool, public preschool or public prekindergarten in-person learning program.

While no action was taken, Pinto said that portion of the governor’s budget proposal is more urgent, as child care providers, learning centers and families are currently planning and budgeting for this summer.

“This is our chance to kick tires on this proposal,” he said, indicating that it would be more formally taken up by the committee at a later date.

Other recommended appropriations for the 2022-23 biennium include:

  • $47.5 million to increase Child Care Assistance Program reimbursement rates;
  • $41 million to maintain voluntary prekindergarten seats that are set to expire in fiscal year 2022;
  • $6.6 million for a tribal early learning program;
  • $800,000 for right-sizing Family Home Visiting grants;
  • $622,000 for a fetal and infant mortality review; and
  • $396,000 for a maternal morbidity and death studies.

 

K-12 Education recommendations

The House Education Finance Committee also dedicated its Tuesday meeting to the topic by hearing HF1064, the governor’s E-12 summer education programming proposal. 

Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls) sponsors the bill, which includes provisions discussed during the early childhood committee meeting. No action was taken. The companion, SF973, awaits action by the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) is the sponsor.

According to Davnie, the committee chair, his bill addresses five primary goals:

  • provide summer school programming through community partnerships;
  • provide summer mental health services;
  • address declining enrollments in some schools;
  • ensure college readiness for recent high school graduates; and
  • provide early learning opportunities for young children who many have missed out on prekindergarten or kindergarten opportunities due to the pandemic.

Several people testified in support of the bill including Kevin Wellen, superintendent of the Menahga Public School District, who said his district experienced a 20% decline in enrollment over the past year and believes the proposed funding provisions would help stabilize the district’s budget.   

Rep. Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea) suggested the bill include a requirement that all schools resume full-time in-person learning. “If we don’t get to the core reason for learning loss, the things that we’re doing are just going to be secondary and not really address the real issue.”


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