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Early Learning Scholarship program would be fully funded under proposal

Early learning scholarships are a way to offer disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-old children better access to high-quality care and learning opportunities. The program has been shown to support not only children, but also the child care industry as a whole and the economy.

However, there is one problem, according to Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn (DFL-Eden Prairie). “We just don’t have enough scholarships to serve all the children in need.”

She sponsors HF1293 that, as amended, would address this by appropriating funds during the 2022-23 biennium to eliminate the scholarship waitlist and expand eligibility for early learning scholarships.

The bill was held over by the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee Thursday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF705, awaits action by the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) is the sponsor.

The scholarships are portable, meaning families have more flexibility to choose a provider that best meets their needs, but they must be used at a Parent Aware-rated program.

“Independent third-party research tells us when our youngest Minnesotans can access quality programs they make significant gains on kindergarten readiness measures in phonics, early math skills, social skills, persistence, executive function and vocabulary,” Kotyza-Witthuhn said.  

The amendment would appropriate $830 million during the 2022-23 biennium to eliminate the existing waiting list and expand eligibility to all infants and toddlers living in families at or below 185% of the federal poverty guideline. This would serve approximately 35,000 children.

Advocates also say the added investment could help child care centers and home based family child care providers stabilize revenue, potentially offer more competitive wages and entice more providers to enter the industry.  

Rep. Tony Jurgens (R-Cottage Grove) supports the underlying bill, saying there is clearly an unmet demand for the scholarships, but feels the appropriation may be too aspirational.

“I did have a little bit of sticker shock when I saw the price tag on it, but I also understand that you wanted to be able to show that this is a true need,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll be successful at that amount … But I do think it’s something we do need to take a look at.”

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