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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL)

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Rep. Michael Nelson - E-Update - August 23, 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


This legislative session is going to be remembered for its commitment to education, and for good reason. You’ve told us that you wanted new investments in our students and their classrooms. And we did just that.

You understood that a world-class education system is the gateway to a world-class economy. That’s why our budget, after years of disinterest and disinvestment, once again made building the world’s best workforce a top priority. We set lofty goals of closing the achievement gap, raising graduation rates and improving student’s career and college readiness.

One way we hope to accomplish this is through an expansion of Early Childhood Learning Scholarships. Our new investments will inject an additional $40 million in the program and allow 10,000 new kids to benefit from it.

Early Learning Scholarships provide income-eligible families funding to support their child’s attendance at a high quality early learning setting of their choice in order to improve children’s success in kindergarten and beyond. The goal is to provide pre-K children who have high needs access to high-quality early learning opportunities. We want to build upon lessons learned from previous scholarship pilots and establish infrastructure for growing and sustaining a comprehensive early learning system in Minnesota.

The program provides scholarships to children from low-income households for early learning and child care at Parent Aware Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS)-rated programs. Children ages 3 to 5 are eligible for scholarships, and any siblings of those recipients up to 5 years old is eligible as well.

Early Learning Scholarships of up to $5,000 per year are available to families who:

  • Live in one of the areas designated in this grant.
  • Have income equal to or less than 185 percent of federal poverty level income in the current calendar year, or be able to document their child's current participation in the free and reduced-price lunch program or child and adult care food program, Head Start, Minnesota family investment program, child care assistance programs, supplemental nutrition assistance program, or placement in foster care.

Additionally, children awarded a scholarship must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • The child is age 3 or 4 as of September 1 of the current year and not yet eligible for kindergarten.
  • A child between the ages of 0 and 5 of a parent under the age of 21 who is pursuing a high school or general education equivalency diploma is eligible for a scholarship if the parent meets the income eligibility guidelines.
  • A sibling between the ages of 0 and 5 of a child who has been awarded a scholarship is eligible upon request, provided the sibling attends the same program.

Scholarship funds can be used to serve additional children, increase a child’s duration in a program, support continuity of services and cover parent co-pays, rates not covered by the Child Care Assistance Program and other fees, including transportation.

Families interested in applying for a scholarship will have two options starting in September – Pathway I and Pathway II.

In Pathway I, Early Learning Scholarships are awarded directly to eligible children through regional Early Learning Scholarship Administrator Offices. Eligible families who receive a Pathway I award can use it in any early childhood program that the family chooses. Scholarships to families may be used in any early childhood program participating in the Parent Aware QRIS. The Parent Aware participating programs a family may choose include Head Start, school district prekindergarten and preschool programs, and child care programs. Pathway I scholarships “follow the child” and are awarded to the family for up to 12 months.

Pathway II awards scholarships to children through a designated four-star Parent Aware-rated early learning program. Four-Star Parent Aware-rated programs include Head Start, school district prekindergarten and preschool programs and child care programs within geographic regions identified by the Department of Education.

Early childhood education is a bargain and smart investment for the state. Art Rolnick, a former senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and one of the nation’s leading experts on early childhood education, says that for every $1 spent will translate to $16 in future income, expanding our tax base and keeping more people out of prison.

Things just don’t happen. We’ve starved and strangled our schools for too long. When it comes to education, a longer view is needed. The dollars we invest in our students – whether they be in preschool, kindergarten, K through 12 or college – are investments in the future of the state. You can’t just hope for strong economy and a bright future. To attain those requires action today.

I’m pleased by we accomplished this session on the issue of education. I promise you that I will continue to make sure that our students and their classrooms remain a top priority for years to come.