Early Learning

Voluntary PreK Funding: Calculate Program Impact

By May 6, 2016 No Comments

Voluntary PreKindergarten Funding is a top priority in education funding for Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and the Senate. MREA partnered with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to create an Estimator Tool to help school leaders calculate the financial impact on their school district. Districts would need to decide by July 1 whether to apply for funding for the 2016-17 school year should this become law.

Here’s a closer look at how the funding works and what it could mean to Greater Minnesota schools.

New Funding

This is new revenue. Districts will continue to receive School Readiness, ECFE, ECSE, and the Pathway II scholarship funding they currently are eligible for and any Pathway I scholarship students who enroll. Districts must apply for this funding by July 1 for the 2016-17 school year and January 30 for the 2017-18 school year.  Applying districts must be prepared to offer a minimum of 350 hours of free PreK programming for four year olds.

The formula funding starts at .41 APU for 350 hours and can increase to .6 APU for 510 hours of programming. Districts may offer more hours of programming, but the APU funding is capped at .6  Districts can supplement this funding from the other funding streams outlined above meet the required hours or to increase the hours of the program.  They can also use the existing funding to offer programming for three year olds and to four year olds at less than the minimum 350 hours.

The Governor has proposed $65 million in initial funding for operating and capital expenditures to begin this program, including:

  • $25 million in FY ’17 for formula funding to operate the program
  • $40 million in matching grants (up to $1 million per district) for capital expenditures to build and remodel spaces for four  year old PreK programs.

He expands the operating funding to $40 million FY ’18 and $60 million FY ’19.  The Senate omnibus education bill provides somewhat less operating funding and does not include the capital grant dollars.  The House omnibus bill does not include any funding for this proposed voluntary PreK programming.

What’s Required?

There are requirements attached to the Governor’s proposal and included in the Senate bill. They include:

  • Salaries for staff need to be comparable salaries for K-12 staff
  • Firm staff/pupil ratios that cannot be exceeded: 1:10 staff/pupil ratio, 20:1 teacher/pupil ratio
  • Teachers must be licensed by FY ‘22/23
  • Requirements for appropriate curriculum and assessment, parent education, staff development, and coordination with health and social service agencies.

Get the details of the proposed law.

The proposed language places applicant districts put into four groups, one of which is school districts outside the seven-county metro area. Funding would be allocated based on the kindergarten enrollment in each group.

With this allocation, 43 percent of the funding would be reserved for Greater Minnesota school districts.

What’s the impact?

While $25 million sounds like a lot, it funds a very limited number of four year olds.  Only 6.6 percent of the four year olds could be enrolled in the 2016-17 school year, based on MDE’s estimation of 425 hours average per four year old (1/2 time).  This is expected to grow to 15 percent in the 2018-19 school year. Priority will go to applying districts with high Free and Reduced Lunch participation and no community based 3 or 4 Star Parent Aware programs.

Feedback to MREA from those who have used it, is that the revenue is easy to estimate, and the expenses more difficult and time consuming.  It requires more district specific inputs on the expense side.  To see the work required, see Estimator Example for Reference.

As the legislative session fast approaches the constitutional adjournment, MREA is looking for feedback on the viability of this proposed PreK funding stream and the degree to which member districts are interested in applying for the funding.