More kids in PreK allowed and no money to pay for it

The cap on the number of children eligible for free early childhood education such as pre-kindergarten and School Readiness Plus classes would be removed under a bill heard in the Senate this week; however, the money to fund the additional students, about $29 million for fiscal year 2020, was not included in the bill. Without the additional funds, program providers would need to fill the funding gap on their own. The Faribault School District, for example, needs an additional $384,000 and the Rochester School District an additional $686,000 to cover the additional costs.

Early childhood funding was capped in 2017; $50 million in one-time money for programming was approved but will end on June 30 of this year. Until the Senate provides its overall budget target and its omnibus education funding bill, it is unknown whether the additional money will be provided for the increase in eligible preK slots. This means that if school districts want to provide the additional classroom slots, they would have to foot the bill on their own.

The Tax Committee also considered bills this week aimed at promoting early education. The first bill would create three new tax credits: 1) for parents paying for qualified early education programs for pre-K children; 2) for childcare professionals, with credits increasing based on the level of education the provider holds; and 3) for childcare providers caring for a specific subset of at-risk children, including those in foster care or in need of child protective services during the year. The second bill would allow pre-K expenses to be eligible for the state’s current K-12 tax credit that is available to lower income families. Both were laid over for possible inclusion in the Omnibus Tax Bill. (S.F.1831, SF 1110, SF 1573)