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Minnesota's Big Spending Boost on Pre-K Scholarships May Serve Fewer Students

A large portion of the new and much-debated early-education funding in Minnesota will go to the state's preschool scholarship program this fall. But despite the increase, the program may serve fewer children in the coming school year. 

I've written a lot about Minnesota this spring, mostly because no other state came close to shutting down the government over a kerfuffle involving state preschool. Regular readers of the blog will remember that Gov. Mark Dayton threatened to veto the legislature's proposed budget when it didn't contain the increase in early-education funding he wanted. In the end, Dayton didn't get the universal preschool program he'd proposed, but legislators did agree to a big increase in spending on the state's preschool scholarship program for children from low-income families.

Part of the reason for the increase was to boost the size of the scholarship for kids attending programs with a four-star rating from the state. That increase, to $7,500 per student from $5,000 per student, could mean that even with a larger overall budget, fewer children will receive scholarships.

Christopher Magan explained the math in a story for The Pioneer Press:

During the last school year, with a cap of $5,000 per student and a budget of $27 million, about 6,400 students received aid. Increasing the scholarship ceiling to $7,500 per student will fund about 5,700 recipients with a budget of $44 million, projections show. ... state education leaders expect 90 percent of scholarships to go to children in top-rated four-star programs, which are eligible for the full $7,500 scholarship.

State education commissioner Brenda Casselius told The Press that the dip would be temporary, since funding for the program will increase to $60 million by 2017, and that the increase in quality was a worthwhile trade-off. Then, if Casselius and Dayton had gotten their way, there would be no dip at all.  

Read more about which states did what on early education during the 2015 legislative session.

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