Early learning plans compete for money

DFL Sen. Dick Cohen, left, and GOP Rep. Ron Kresha, right, discuss their bills to expand early learning scholarships. Tim Pugmire/MPR News

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is lining up in support of legislation to expand early learning scholarships for disadvantaged young children.

Supporters held a news conference today to highlight the House and Senate bills. The legislation does not specify a dollar amount.

Frank Forberg, chair of the coalition of organizations called MinneMinds, said the scholarships allow parents to choose a high quality early learning opportunity for their children. He said thousands of children could benefit from an expansion of the current program.

“Closing the educational achievement gap starts early,” Forsberg said. “We want to close it at kindergarten, and we think early learning scholarships is the best approach to get that done.”

The event also pointed out the competition underway this session for a limited amount of education funds.

Senate Democrats support expanding the scholarships. But they also support the pre-kindergarten classes for four-year-olds in schools favored by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who did not include new scholarship money in his budget proposal.

But House Education Finance Chair Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said she’s focusing on the scholarships, not pre-kindergarten.

“I don’t think it’s the best way in which to manage the resources that we hope to have in the education arena to address those children who truly need good quality pre-school programs to be ready for kindergarten,” Loon said.

Senate Finance Chair Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, the sponsor of a scholarship bill, said he thinks the two approaches are compatible and both will likely be in the Senate bill.