Early learning programs to prepare children for the first day of kindergarten have been shown to work wonders. Minnesota has had these programs on the books since 2017 and the Legislature has renewed them several times, but only on a temporary basis.
HF456 would make those programs a permanent part of Minnesota’s education system.
In the view of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. María Isa Pérez-Vega (DFL-St. Paul), this expansion is a no-brainer.
“There is a great need across the state for pre-K,” said Pérez-Vega. “We need to ensure our students are ready for kindergarten.”
The House Education Finance Committee approved the proposal, as amended, Thursday, sending it to the House Ways and Means Committee.
Currently, there are 7,160 pre-K seats made available statewide each year via two Department of Education programs – Voluntary Prekindergarten and School Readiness Plus. Funding for 4,000 of those seats is due to expire after fiscal year 2023. The bill would eliminate the sunset date from state statute and preserve those seats.
Maintaining these programs going forward would require dedicated state funding. The appropriation request, per a fiscal note, would total over $41.5 million for the upcoming biennium and over $43.6 million for the 2026-27 biennium.
School administrators and teachers from across the state testified to the efficacy of these programs in jumpstarting a child’s education and the need for them to be made permanent.
“By providing preschool for our children, we are setting our students up for success,” said Stefanie Youngberg, superintendent of East Central School District. “It is important that the funding is predictable, stable, and available for Minnesota’s youngest learners.”
Lori Erickson, assistant director of the Office of Early Learning with Saint Paul Public Schools, noted these programs are instrumental in closing achievement gaps.
“Our prekindergarten programming showed immediate positive results for children, specifically those children who qualified for free or reduced lunch and for children of color,” she said.
Sitting next to Pérez-Vega – who had stated her own daughter would soon be entering pre-K in St. Paul – Erickson said there are 600 children on the district’s wait list.
“If you fund it, we can open up those seats and move children off of our wait list and welcome them into vibrant classrooms.”