The past two years have seen many positive developments for schools, parents, teachers, and, most important, Minnesota’s students. Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature have taken necessary steps to pay back the shift in school funding, and they have invested in all-day kindergarten and made a significant investment in pre-K education.
Last session, Minnesota’s leaders allocated $46 million to fund parent-directed, pre-K scholarships tied directly to quality programs. This important first step has already had an impact — we’re hearing success stories from across Greater Minnesota. More programs are adopting the Parent Aware quality rating and opening up brand-new classrooms, knowing that for the first time parents will be able to access and choose the programming that best meets their children’s needs.
Programs, whether school-based, Head Start, or licensed family child-care centers, should seize this opportunity to engage parents, explain what quality early education means and how scholarships can be used. The Minnesota Parent Teacher Association has long understood that collaboration between providers and parents is essential for the success of all children; pre-K scholarships present an opportunity to build that relationship early.
Parent engagement occurs when there is an ongoing, reciprocal, strength-based partnership between families and their children’s early learning programs. Scholarships are designed to enhance such engagement by giving parents the opportunity to enroll their children in quality programs. Parents also receive information about child development and the importance of school preparation, building a deeper level of engagement with providers.
Waiting lists around the state
The current investment, however, meets only 9 percent of the total need. Programs around the state have waiting lists of families eligible for scholarships, with the lack of funding being the only thing standing in the way of their children’s quality early education. Expanding access to early childhood care and education through scholarships must remain a top priority for legislators.
It is critical for the economic survival of our state that parents have access to stable, quality early learning programs for their children to ensure they are receiving the start they need to be ready for success in school and beyond.
When children are unprepared for kindergarten, they are more likely to need remedial or special education, commit crime, have lower wages and require treatment for substance abuse and preventable medical conditions. Research by the Wilder Foundation estimates that Minnesota loses several hundred million dollars each year as a result of our kindergarten readiness gap.
Many are on board
There is broad, statewide support for this solution. The Minnesota PTA is part of the MinneMinds coalition of more than 75 organizations representing pre-K through 12, including leading philanthropic organizations, local chapters of national nonprofits, businesses and organized labor, as well as parents and early learning and child-care providers standing together to support increased funding for these scholarships.
We can secure a better future for Minnesota and create a vibrant, productive workforce by making sure our most at-risk kids have access to quality early learning options in every community.
Tracie Dewberry is president of the Minnesota State PTA Executive Committee.
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