Guest Opinion: Early learning scholarships bridge the urban-rural divide

Much has been said and written lately about a rural-urban divide in America. It’s increasingly apparent that sound public policy has to help families in communities of every description—urban, suburban, exurban, and rural. Minnesota’s Early Learning Scholarships is exactly that kind of policy.

Scholarships address an urgent problem that schools and communities are facing in every corner of the state. Nearly half of Minnesota’s children are arriving in kindergarten unprepared. Too many kids never catch up and eventually drop out of school. Dropouts earn less and generate higher taxpayer costs throughout their lifetime. That’s a huge problem for all of us. Minnesota needs an educated workforce to compete in the global economy. An educated workforce makes for healthy, prosperous communities.

High quality early childcare and early education is the way to get kids ready to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. But for too many Minnesota kids, these programs are out of reach. Tragically, about 40,000 low-income Minnesota children under five years old are unable to access the quality early learning programs they need to get prepared for school and life.

These at-risk children are in every community in Minnesota. About half of sholarship-eligible low-income children are in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area, and half are in greater Minnesota.

But how can one policy solution work as well in Minneapolis, Mankato and Motley? After all, some Minnesota communities have many different choices available for childcare and early learning programs, and others have few to choose from.

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