Friday, May 4, 2012

Pre-Kindergarten Spending in Minnesota

Pre-Kindergarten Spending in Minnesota
Peter Strohmeier

Recently, there have been numerous studies that highlight the importance of pre-kindergarten funding.  W. Steve Barnett, Director of the National Institute of Early Education Research states, “Children who attend high-quality pre-school enter kindergarten with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies, and stronger basic math skills than those who do not.”  Studies have also shown that the economic benefits of high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.  Specifically to Minnesota, economist Robert Lynch found that universal pre-kindergarten would start paying itself after 9 years and yield a 10.2 to 1 cost benefit ratio.  The total benefits would be roughly $16.8 billion in 2050.

The expenditure that most closely parallels a statewide pre-kindergarten program is the Minnesota School Readiness Program.  In 2010, the final expenditures from the general fund were $8,373,000.  In 2011, the appropriation for the program was $9,797,000.  In order to be eligible for state aid, school districts must provide a biennial school readiness plan.  Each district then receives a portion of the total appropriation to provide for school readiness activities that prepare children for kindergarten.  Each district receives aid based on a funding formula.

In Minnesota, there have been no recent efforts to change or redesign the school readiness aid formula.  Most of the policy discussion has revolved around the standards and indicators on how school readiness is measured. 

Despite tough budget times, states around the United States state Pre-K programs have fared pretty well.  Overall total state spending on state Pre-K programs increased by 7% up to $5.7 billion in FY 2011.

Tan-Increased Spending
Blue-Decreased Spending
Aqua-Maintained Spending
White-Did Not Report

Compared with other states, Minnesota followed the trend of states increasing spending on Pre-K. However of those states, Minnesota ranked toward the bottom of states that increased funding for Pre-K.

There is great variation among the funding formula for Pre-K.  They are either included in general education spending (with or without restricted eligibility), not included in general education spending (with or without restricted eligibility), or no state support for spending on Pre-K. 

The Pew Center on the States did a report on the challenges and benefits of funding Pre-K through the general education school funding formula.  Minnesota currently has a separate school readiness aid formula, as described earlier.

Various studies have shown the positive economic and social effects on Pre-K programs.  For the most part, Minnesota is doing an average job on spending on Pre-K programs.  Minnesota has a long-standing tradition of high-quality and accessible education.  Minnesota should invest in Pre-K funding for all children and take steps toward universal Pre-K.


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