It is great that early learning is a policy priority for the state, and it’s encouraging to hear it continue to be discussed. In a year of $1.6 billion surplus, it would also be great to see large investments in Minnesota’s youngest children.

Early Learning continues to be an important issue that Minnesota legislators are talking about. The House, Senate, and Governor have all proposed additional funds for early education, although they differ widely on how much to spend and in what way. Representatives and senators just finished their work to come up with joint budget bills. These still have to pass out of both bodies and be signed by the Governor to become law.

Two weeks before the end of the regular session, here’s an update on the status of Think Small’s policy priorities.

Increase the number of Parent Aware rated programs and allow programs to maintain or improve their Parent Aware ratings

The Education bill allows all Parent Aware rated program (1-4 Stars) to be eligible to accept Early Learning Scholarships until 2022. After 2022, Early Learning Scholarships will only be able to be used by families at 3 and 4 star Parent Aware rated programs.  This could encourage more providers to earn a new rating or improve their current rating. The Department of Human Services will continue to fund statewide implementation of Parent Aware.

Better align public funds to increase the number of children receiving high quality early care and education

There has been robust discussion about coordinating funds in both House and Senate committee hearings during the session, but none of the coordination language is in the current Education bill.  However, the Legislative Audit commission will be evaluating early childhood programs and how they coordinate in Minnesota. This could lead to a better understanding of how funds are used and how to improve the system.

Expand access for children, ages 1 to kindergarten entry, from families with low incomes to high-quality early care and education programs by advocating funding for flexible, parent-directed scholarships

The legislature proposes an additional $19 million in funding for Early Learning Scholarships. Pathway II scholarships would be capped at current funding levels, and any new investments would go to Pathway I. The bill does not expand access for all children 0-5, but it does prioritize children experiencing homelessness, in foster care, or in child protection.

The Governor proposed expanding Early Learning Scholarships for all children under 5 but did not include new money for them in his budget.

Improve Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) to assure more children from families with low incomes can access high quality care

The legislature heard bills on this topic but did not include the provisions in their budget bill. There is no significant increase in investment to CCAP, and family-friendly policies that are part of the 2014 federal authorization are not included.

The Governor proposed $69 million to improve CCAP for families and providers.

Support the sustainable career pathways of early learning professionals

There are currently no proposals on the table to address this issue. However, there is some work being done about career pathways and compensation by Minnesota stakeholders in conjunction with efforts led by the National Governor’s Association, The National Academy of Sciences, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The Health and Human Services budget bill includes some legislation discussed in the Subcommittee on Childcare Access and Affordability. The provisions aim to improve communication between licensors and providers. Additionally, the Positive Supports Rule exemption for child care is included.

The Education bill proposes eliminating Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) and instead allocating those funds to School Readiness and Early Learning Scholarship funding.

The Governor’s budget invests an additional $175 million in VPK.

Next Steps
The Governor and legislative leaders have different priorities for early learning. The Governor has supported the Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) model, while many legislators prefer Early Learning Scholarships.  It is very difficult to know how/if they will meet in the middle.

Key legislators are continuing negotiation talks with the Governor, and we will be watching closely while continuing to work with partners. Legislators must adjourn on May 22nd. If their work is not done by then, they will have to call a special session.

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