An array of research shows that providing students from low-income families the opportunity to attend a high quality pre-school program closes achievement gaps and offers extensive societal benefits. This has led to a growing interest among state policymakers to increase Minnesota’s investment in quality pre-K programming.
Impressive Research Results
The results from school readiness Pre-K programs are impressive. For example, data from Saint Paul Public Schools shows that students in the Pre-K program advanced in the areas of vocabulary, math, spelling and reading.
Figure 1: Comparison of Kindergarten Academic Test Scores from 10 Schools Participating in Saint Paul Public Schools Pre-Kindergarten Program, First Three Cohorts (2013-14)
Minnesota Has Fallen Behind
Minnesota was ahead of the curve in 1992 when it passed legislation for a School Readiness Program and required school districts to use the funds to serve at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds and prepare them for kindergarten. Unfortunately, Minnesota has since fallen behind. While the research continued to pile up showing the positive impact of high-quality early learning, especially for children living in poverty, investments stalled. School districts did not receive any additional funding for school-based preschool programs for more than 20 years, until the 2014 legislative session.
New Vision for School Readiness
State policymakers have now established a bold vision of universal Pre-K to prepare all students for kindergarten. Two funding options have garnered great attention in this 2015 session:
- Expand the existing scholarship program
- Rapidly move toward a universal 4 year-old pre-K program.
A third option, to significantly increase the investment in Minnesota’s School Readiness Programs, would provide a path to universal pre-K that immediately focuses on the students most at risk of not being ready for kindergarten, while providing school districts time to expand infrastructure and secure the teachers necessary for a universal program.
Expanding Minnesota’s School Readiness Program, arguably the most effective and efficient early learning program available, could provide a smooth transition to that ultimate goal.
Thanks to the Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD) for this article, which originally appeared in its March 2015 Connections newsletter.