Three competing early learning proposals are emerging for this session.
In the Senate…
The Senate’s universal four-year-old preschool bill (SF 6, Sen. John Hoffman, DFL Anoka) would cost almost $500 million in the next biennium and almost $600 million the two years after that. This kind of middle class entitlement is simply unaffordable and defies all of the research that shows that the 17:1 return on investment to society is with money invested in low-income children and their families and in the earliest years of their lives.
The Governor’s plan calls for merging the existing pot of School Readiness funding, about $12 million annually, into a new pot totaling $109 million. The new pot would reimburse school districts at a rate of .5 ADM plus categorical aids for offering a full time four-year-old preschool program (850 hours, plus 200 summer hours) at no charge to any family, regardless of income status.
The Administration is assuming that 60 percent of districts will take advantage of this program and that districts with multiple elementary buildings might consider the program for their most poverty stricken buildings. The Administration is also proposing all existing early learning scholarships, about $27 million annually, would all go into the Pathway I program, which provides scholarships to families only. Pathway II, which provides scholarship funding directly to school sites, would cease under this plan.
In the House…
The House GOP’s early learning plan likely will emerge on Thursday. MREA has been told that Rep. Ron Kresha (GOP Little Falls) will hold a press conference on Thursday as he introduces legislation backed by the MinnieMinds to outline the organization’s early childhood scholarship plan. The legislation likely will include a comparable amount of spending to the Governor’s plan, but it will all go into scholarships. How much, if any, would go into Pathway II or school based scholarships is unclear. We’ll know more by the end of the week.
Where the child care community falls in all of this is a big question. Some center-based child care programs are attaining the requisite 3-4 star Parent Aware ratings to be eligible to receive scholarships. Home based or legal, unlicensed child care programs are slow to the Parent Aware game. It’s been noted that if schools take over four-year-old preschool programs that child care centers will face economic difficulties, as fees for four year-olds subsidize the high cost of infant and toddler care.
How these three divergent plans find a middle road by the end of May is unclear. MREA has tried and will continue to try to add our voice to the debate.
Our view is that rural communities need to work together — schools, child care programs, Head Start and others — to build out a coordinated system of affordable early learning opportunities for low-income children. There seems to be room for many programs if only the state can figure out an efficient and reasonable revenue plan. Read more about Early Learning.