The Minnesota Department of Education delivered an evaluation of Early Learning Scholarships to the Minnesota Legislature this week, which found that children who receive Early Learning Scholarships are making significant gains in the skills they need for school and life. This is the first evaluation of the program.

“It is so wonderful to see this encouraging evaluation validating the impacts Early Learning Scholarships have on children from low-income families,” said Barbara Yates, President and CEO of Think Small, a Minnesota non-profit dedicated to improving early learning in Minnesota. “Children who receive Early Learning Scholarships are making strong progress in the areas needed to be on track for success. It’s fantastic to see the progress children who receive scholarships to attend high quality early learning programs are making, and it’s so thrilling to know their early years are setting them on a path toward a bright future.”

Early Learning Scholarships began in Minnesota in 2013, following a pilot project. Scholarships are provided to families at or below 185% of the federal poverty level to support children attending a high-quality early learning or child care program, which incorporates kindergarten readiness best practices. Minnesota Department of Education estimates this program will serve 5,700 children in fiscal year 2016.

“Quality early learning programs can improve the trajectory of a child’s life,” said Dianne Haulcy, Director of Family Engagement at Think Small. “Children from low-income families face many obstacles to succeeding in school. Many enter kindergarten unprepared to learn, and far too often never catch up. Early Learning Scholarships help them enter school fully prepared to learn, setting them on a path for success.”

Lisa’s family is one family impacted by Early Learning Scholarships. Lisa is a single mother to a rambunctious 4 year-old. They try hard to make ends meet every month, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Child care is a huge expense, and Lisa knew her daughter was not on track to be ready for kindergarten. An Early Learning Scholarship changed everything, and now her daughter is attending a high quality program that has her on track to be ready for kindergarten.

“Having that opportunity is like winning a million dollars,” Lisa said. “I can’t thank them enough because it’s meant a lot for my family.”