ST. PAUL — MinneMinds, a statewide coalition of more than 60 organizations, supports legislation introduced this week in the Minnesota State Senate that would ensure 3- and 4-year-olds could access quality early learning programs to prepare them for success in school.
The legislation, (Senate File 481), provides $185 million to enable families to be able to choose a quality early learning program in their community, help providers improve and expand quality early learning programs throughout the state, and ultimately, dramatically improve kindergarten readiness.
“This legislation is a critical first step toward our goal of ensuring every child in Minnesota – regardless of family income or geographic location – has the opportunity to attend a quality early learning program that meets their needs and prepares them for lifelong success in school and beyond,” said Frank Forsberg, senior vice president at Greater Twin Cities United Way and chair of MinneMinds.
The problem we face in Minnesota is that many families cannot find or pay for quality early learning programs for their children. The result: Minnesota has some of the worst achievement gaps in the country.
“Today, one in four students fails to graduate from high school,” said Senator Chuck Wiger (D-Maplewood), Chair of the Senate Education Finance committee and lead author of the legislation in the Minnesota Senate. “Yet we know that when kids start school ready they are more likely to graduate, creating a clear link between school preparedness and our future workforce. We need to invest now so that today’s kids can be tomorrow’s engineers, doctors, teachers, mechanics and lawmakers.”
Minnesota’s unacceptable achievement gaps start early; with nearly half of Minnesota 5-year-olds behind before they even enter kindergarten.
“Local and national research has proven that kids who start behind face significant hurdles to academic achievement and often never catch up,” said Senator Patricia Torres Ray (D-Minneapolis), Chair of the Senate Education Policy committee. “My vision is that we soon live in a state where we not only understand but act on what we know through research about pre-k early education and invest in early education at a level that will make a meaningful difference. Scholarships are proven to make that difference and are our best defense to close Minnesota’s unacceptable achievement gap.”
Lawmakers, business leaders, educators and the general public are supportive of early childhood investments because of the proven long-term positive benefits for kids and an extremely high return on public investment, as high as $16 for every $1 spend for low-income children.
“These scholarships are a smart investment for Minnesota,” said Senator Dick Cohen (D-St. Paul), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “By providing all children access to programs that prepare them for school, we can reduce the burden on taxpayers and save $860 million dollars every year. This is the best investment our state can make to ensure all kindergarten classrooms are filled with children who are ready to succeed in school.”
The scholarship model proposed in this legislation will allow families to choose early education and child care programs that have been rated by Parent Aware, a tested and proven quality rating system, or have committed to becoming rated. The scholarship model also helps providers – Head Start, school-based, licensed center-based and licensed home-based – continually improve quality and outcomes.
“School readiness is not just an urban, suburban or rural issue,” said Senator Tom Saxhaug (D-Grand Rapids), member of the Senate Education Finance committee. “This is a statewide issue which is why I support this legislation to help bring high quality education to all communities across Minnesota.”
“As a state, we need to make a commitment to ensuring we are meeting the needs of all kids, in every community in Minnesota,” said Senator John Pederson (R-St. Cloud). “Scholarships do this by improving access to quality care in each unique community, giving parents the chance to choose the quality program that best meets their needs and prepares their child for lifelong success.”
Members of the MinneMinds coalition firmly believe that these early learning scholarships are the best investment our state can make to help improve the lives of Minnesota kids and the long term vitality of our state.
MinneMinds is supported by a broad base of statewide organizations and thought leaders with a common commitment to prioritizing Minnesota’s youngest children as the most pressing need and important investment for Minnesota. Supporting organizations include representatives of the education community from early childhood to K-12, the state’s leading philanthropic organizations, local chapters of national nonprofits and business.
Collectively and independently, these supporting organizations have advocated for and helped to advance a number of successful state policy changes and endeavors over the past several years. For more information and a complete list of MinneMinds supporters, visit www.MinneMinds.com.