The Minnesota House Education Finance Committee reviewed legislation last week that would increase school readiness aid from $12 million a year to $25 million beginning in fiscal year 2016. Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan) introduced the bill, HF226, for possible inclusion in the Education Omnibus Bill.
The bill provides funding to districts for eligible pre-kindergarten students to improve early education and ensure students have access to a quality start in school.
School readiness programs enable children to enter school with the necessary skills and behavior to succeed. Children under the age of three-and-18 months can be enrolled if the district determines that serving young children makes the program more effective.
Half of school readiness aid is distributed proportionately on the basis of the number of four-year-olds resident to the school district. The other half of school readiness aid is distributed proportionately based on the district’s share of the statewide free- and reduced-lunch count.
Some districts charge a fee for school readiness programs, though they must be waived for participants who are unable to pay. Districts must keep school readiness aid in a reserve account within the community service fund and spend the money only for school readiness purposes. A district may contract for services or provide school readiness programs through its own employees.
This proposed bill is important because high-quality early childhood education is vital to ensuring that kids are ready to learn when they start kindergarten. Studies repeatedly show that children who start school with the effective social, emotional, and developmental skills are better prepared for success in school.
School readiness has tremendous pay-off for the investment in the short-term, as it reduces need for remedial learning and special education resources. It also brings long-term benefits by improving graduation rates. Early learning is also a key component to reducing the achievement gap in our schools.
Remember, 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.
Currently there is no Senate author; feel free to reach out to your Senator and ask him or her to sign on to this bill.