New funding for child care and programs to provide additional opportunities for early education are at the center of a new law focused on early childhood.
Sponsored by Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul) and Sen. Mary Kunesh (DFL-New Brighton), the law will appropriate $300 million in new spending during the upcoming biennium with much of that funding ($252.06 million) devoted to an increase in early learning scholarships.
Those are meant to prevent opportunity gaps from opening among children by helping low-income families with young children access programs that prepare them to attend school. The appropriation would be transferred from the General Fund to the Special Revenue Fund because appropriations in the latter fund aren’t cancelled at the end of the biennium.
Eligibility for those scholarships would also be expanded and the Education Department could use money that’s appropriated for scholarships for this purpose. Additionally, the department must give highest priority to applicants based on several criteria that include the child’s age and family issues such as homelessness, incarceration, abuse and others.
The law provides the Head Start program with an increase of $20 million that can be used for program operations, infrastructure or reconfiguration to serve children from birth to age 5 in center-based services. Federally designated Tribal Head Start programs must initially be allocated 10.72% of the total appropriation.
Other appropriation increases for the upcoming biennium in the law include:
• $5 million to establish a Grow Your Own early childhood educator grant program;
• $4.27 million for a new Great Start Scholarship Program to ensure additional affordable access to high-quality early care and learning for kids from birth to kindergarten entry;
• $2.52 million to help schools conduct entry assessments to identify the percentage of kindergartners who meet or exceed end-of-year prekindergarten early learning standards. The assessments, which are currently optional, will be required but can be phased in over three school years;
• $1.95 million for an increase in developmental screening aid to school districts;
• $1.8 million for a grant to the ParentChild+ Program for a literacy and school readiness program for kids ages 16 months to age 4;
• $1.1 million for the Department of Human Services to expand the quality rating and improvement system that is used to assess, improve, and communicate the quality of care and education programs;
• $1.03 million for administrative and IT costs related to the prekindergarten program;
• $1 million to the Office of Higher Education for grants to higher education institutions to address the teacher shortage in early childhood and family education;
• $750,000 for early childhood family education support staff;
• $500,000 for children’s savings accounts start-up grants;
• $500,000 to Reach Out and Read Minnesota to establish a statewide plan to encourage early childhood development through health care clinics;
• $500,000 to the Office of Higher Education for early education curriculum grants;
• $500,000 to the MacPhail Center for Music to expand its Learning with Music program;
• $300,000 for an executive function across generations curriculum pilot program;
• $300,000 for the Way to Grow program to extend its home visiting services;
• $204,000 to the Department of Education for administrative costs related to developmental screening; and
• $200,000 to the Metro Deaf School for early childhood special education services.
The law, which has various effective dates, also requires schools to employ a licensed teacher for preschool, prekindergarten and early education programs, although teachers with five years of experience prior to Sept. 1, 2028, are exempt from the requirement and the provision does not take effect until July 1, 2028. Those who work in a licensed child care center or in a certified license exempt child care center are also exempt.