Today, the families of 40,000 Minnesota children under age five cannot afford quality early care and education. Thanks to bipartisan compromise and the leadership of our governor and legislative leaders, thousands of Minnesota’s youngest and most vulnerable children may now have access to early childhood programs.
The MinneMinds Coalition would like to thank Governor Dayton, House Speaker Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Gazelka, for their leadership and advocacy for Minnesota’s youngest and most vulnerable children. We also want to give a special recognition and thanks to Education Finance Committee Chairs Sen. Carla Nelson and Rep. Jennifer Loon for their hard work and strong commitment on behalf of children. We know this work has been especially challenging during this year’s budget negotiations.
Governor Mark Dayton and the legislature reached a historic agreement two years ago that allocated an additional $100 million for the biennium to fund early childhood education. History would be made again this session with close $100 Million in new money allocated in the next biennium to early childhood programs. That investment aligns closely with our coalition’s 2017 legislative agenda.
This increase in resources for our youngest would include over $20 million for early childhood scholarships and $50 million for School Readiness Plus. In addition to the increases in investments in education, the Health and Human Services bill would add $12 million for evidence based targeted home visiting for the next biennium and $33 Million for the following biennium. We thank Health and Human Services Chair Michelle Benson and Rep Ron Kresha for their leadership on helping increase access to targeted home visiting.
In addition, state leaders agreed to family friendly changes with more than $19 million in investment to make the Child Care Assistance Program work better and conform with federal standards. The Child and Dependent Care Credit would be expanded and increased, which means many more low- and middle-income families would be able to access the credit.
Close to $3 million in new money would be allocated for Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE), $ 2.6 million to Reading Corp, $1 Million for Foster Kids Educational Stability, and $1.1 Million for the Parent-Child Home Program. Total funding for these programs would represent an increase of close to 25% from their projected budget for the biennium. We thank our state’s leaders for putting the needs of children first, by reaching a bipartisan compromise.
Because of this compromise, over 4,000 children would now have access to early childhood programs. The budget agreement would lead towards an increase in quality and better parent engagement. Early childhood care and education would move towards a more flexible, mixed delivery model that meets both community and family needs, while targeting resources to the children that need them the most.
We are particularly grateful for the bill’s prioritization of scholarships to children from birth to 5 that are homeless, in foster care, or in need of child protective services, or have a parent under age 21 who is pursuing a high school diploma or a high school equivalency test.
Minnesota currently has one of the worst education opportunity gaps in our nation. The good news is that we know how to substantially reduce the opportunity gap by investing in quality early childhood care and education. Extensive research indicates that use of public dollars for quality early childhood programs yields one of the highest returns on investment. There is much more to do next session to dramatically increase access to the families that can’t currently afford quality, all day, year round, parent directed quality early care and education. However, this past session has seen a substantial move in the right direction.
We hope that this bipartisan leadership will continue into the next year. Our youngest and most vulnerable are facing many challenges, and we must act boldly when we see an opportunity for consensus.