Early Learning Scholarships
- What are Early Learning Scholarships?
- Who can get help from Early Learning Scholarships?
- Who administers the Early Learning Scholarship Program?
- What are the eligibility requirements to receive an Early Learning Scholarship?
- How do Early Learning Scholarships work?
- How long is an Early Learning Scholarship good for?
- Do I have to complete a renewal process to continue the scholarship?
- What is the amount of an Early Learning Scholarship?
- Will the Early Learning Scholarship cover the entire cost of my early learning program?
- How do I find an eligible early learning program?
- What is Parent Aware?
- What is an Area Administrator?
- Can a younger sibling of a scholarship recipient receive a scholarship?
- Are some populations given priority consideration in the awarding of Early Learning Scholarships?
- What verifications are required to prove eligibility for an Early Learning Scholarship?
- What if I move or don't like the early learning program I have selected for my child?
- Is there a wait list for Early Learning Scholarships?
- How can I use my Pathway I Early Learning Scholarship?
- Does participating in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) prohibit me from receiving an Early Learning Scholarship?
- What if my child receives early learning services from more than one program?
- Do I have to notify the Area Administrator if my income or family circumstances change?
- How do I apply for an Early Learning Scholarship?
Early Learning Scholarships increase access to high-quality early childhood programs for 3-and-4 year old children with the highest needs to improve school readiness. Two types of scholarships are available: Pathway I and Pathway II. Pathway l scholarships are awarded by Area Administrators directly to families who meet the eligibility requirements. Pathway II scholarships are awarded to families through an eligible Four-Star Parent Aware Rated program such as Head Start, school district prekindergarten and preschool programs, and child care programs. Scholarships are prioritized to meet the needs of children of teen parents, currently in foster care, in need of child protective service, or who have experienced homelessness in the last 24 months.
To be eligible for an Early Learning Scholarship, a child must live in a household with a family income equal to or less than 185% of the federal poverty level or the child must have documented participation in the free and reduced-price lunch program, Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, Head Start, Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or placement in foster care.
In addition to meeting the above requirement, children awarded a scholarship must meet one or more of the following criteria:
· Be a child who is age 3 or 4 as of September 1 of the current school year and not yet enrolled in and attending kindergarten.
· Be a child between the ages of 0 and 5 with a teen parent (under the age of 21) who is pursuing a high school or General Education Development (GED) diploma
· Be a child between the ages of 0 and 5 whose family has experienced homelessness as defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act within the last 24 months
· Be a child between the ages of 0 and 5 in foster care or in need of child protective services
· Be a sibling between the ages of 0 and 5 of a child who has been awarded a scholarship, providing the sibling will attend the same program and funds are available.
The program is administered by the Minnesota Department of Education. However, eligibility is determined and Pathway I scholarships are awarded through designated Area Administrators. In the case of Pathway II Scholarships, funding is awarded directly to Four-Star Rated Programs that verify eligibility and award scholarships to eligible children attending their programs.
· Have income at or below 185% of the federal poverty guidelines (to view an FPG chart, 2019 here), OR, be enrolled in one or more of the following programs: Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Free and Reduced-Price Lunch Program (FRLP), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), Head Start, Foster Care and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.
· Have a Minnesota address
· Have a child age 3 or 4 (by September 1 of the calendar year) who is not enrolled or participating in kindergarten or a child age 0-5 who falls in one of the priority categories (see question 12). If the child is between the ages of 3 and 5, he/she must have completed (or will complete within 90 days) an Early Childhood Health and Developmental Screening (Early Childhood Screening or Preschool Screening).
Early Learning Scholarships support access to quality early education and care programs by bridging funding gaps and decreasing barriers for low-income families. Scholarship funds can be used to cover the cost of serving additional children in an early education program, extending a child’s time in a high-quality program, cover parent fees, or cover tuition and other costs for the child’s attendance and/or enhance services. Scholarships must be used in programs that are participating in Parent Aware, Minnesota’s Quality Rating and Improvement System for early childhood programs. Families may choose the early education program they want but it must have a Parent Aware Star Rating. Currently any program participating in Parent Aware is eligible to accept scholarships. Effective July 1, 2020, however, only Parent Aware Three-or-Four-Star Rated programs will be eligible. Scholarships are paid directly to the early education program selected by the awarded family.
Families can access Early Learning Scholarships in one of two ways:
o Awarded to eligible children through Area Administrators
o Used for allowable costs and services provided by an eligible early education program selected by the family and is paid directly to the program
o Can follow the child to a different eligible program in the event of a program change.
o Awarded to eligible children through a Parent Aware Four-Star Rated program that has been funded with Pathway II dollars
o Used only for allowable costs and services provided by the Pathway II program that made the award
o Ends when a child leaves the Pathway II program that made the award.
Once awarded a scholarship, the child is eligible to continue to receive a scholarship until the day the child is eligible for kindergarten (age 5 on September 1) or the day the child is enrolled in and attending kindergarten, whichever is earlier.
Pathway I Scholarships follow the child, meaning that if the child needs to enroll in a different early childhood program the scholarships will be transferred to the new program, providing the new program is a Parent Aware rated program.
Scholarships are awarded for 12 months. A child may receive only one scholarship during that 12-month period. However, if the child is not yet eligible for kindergarten (age 5 on September 1) at the end of the 12-month period, the family must submit a completed renewal form to indicate their wish to continue their child’s scholarship and to provide an informed agreement of consent. Families do not need to submit updated proof of eligibility at the time of renewal. When it is time to renew, families should receive a renewal form in the mail from their Area Administrator or from their program if they are receiving a Pathway II scholarship.
The Early Learning Scholarships Program awards scholarships of up to $7,500 per year. However, the actual amount awarded may depend on the rating level of the Parent Aware early learning program the family selects to attend (the higher the star rating the higher the scholarship award) and other factors such as if the family is receiving assistance from the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).
The scholarship can be applied to all program costs up to the amount of the scholarship award. Any remaining balances will be the family’s responsibility. Once awarded a scholarship, the family must complete an Award Planning Agreement with the early education program that they have chosen for their child to attend. This agreement will outline how the scholarship funding will be used.
Families may choose the early learning program that their child attends but that program must have a Parent Aware Star Rating. To find a listing of Parent Aware rated programs in your area, visit the Parent Aware website. You can also contact your county’s Area Administrator for help with identifying an eligible early learning program.
Parent Aware is Minnesota’s Quality Rating and Improvement System for early childhood programs. It is administered by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Parent Aware issues a research-based star rating system that helps families identify programs that prepare children for kindergarten.
Area Administrators are agencies funded by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to locally administer early learning scholarships throughout Minnesota. They do outreach, process applications, verify eligibility, request scholarship funds from MDE, and process payments. Area Administrators award Pathway I scholarships directly to eligible children and then pay the early learning programs chosen by the family. For a list of Area Administrators and the regions served, visit the MDE website.
While not one of the four priority populations for early learning scholarships, scholarships will be considered for a younger, not yet age eligible, sibling of a current recipient, if requested. Siblings are children who share one or both parents through blood, marriage or adoption, including siblings as defined by the child’s tribal code or custom. NOTE: The biological children of a foster parent are not considered siblings of the child in foster care.
For siblings to be considered for a scholarship, the scholarship application or renewal form must be submitted by the same parent/legal guardian and the sibling must be listed on the application or renewal form. In addition, the sibling must be attending the same early learning program as the older sibling and the enrollment and regular attendance of the sibling must be confirmed. There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if the siblings are age 3 and 4 and not yet enrolled in and attending kindergarten they may access different scholarship pathways.
Yes. Children between the ages of 0 to 5 receive priority status for scholarship funds if they are children of teen parents, in foster care, in need of (receiving) child protective services, or if the family has experienced homelessness in the previous 24 months.
Families must verify their income with written documentation and include it with the application. Acceptable written documentation (one or more if applicable) may include: two most recent pay stubs, W-2 form, a financial aid statement, a signed statement from the current employer on company letterhead, documentation of child support, documentation of social security income, or if other types of documentation are not available, the previous year’s income tax filing documents.
Families that have already been determined eligible for other public work support programs are eligible for Early Learning Scholarships but must provide proof of participation in one of the following programs: Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Free and Reduced-Price Lunch Program (FRLP), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), Head Start, Foster Care and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.
Acceptable written documentation to demonstrate participation in any of the above programs may include: official notice on program letterhead, application with program approval/signature, authorization form from the public program, current bill or receipt from the program, screenshot from a program’s official system of record. Proofs must be dated and valid and include the name of the parent or guardian or the child.
Pathway I Scholarships follow the child, meaning that if the child needs to enroll in a different early childhood program the scholarships will be transferred to the new program, provided that the new program is a Parent Aware rated program. The scholarship program has no restrictions on the length of time you must be enrolled in a program before you can transfer to a new program. There are also no restrictions on the number of times you can change programs in a 12-month scholarship period. To initiate a transfer, you must notify your Area Administrator.
In most cases, Pathway II scholarships will be cancelled when the child leaves the program that awarded the scholarship.
Usually there is a wait list for Pathway I Scholarships. Because there is a capped amount of state funding designated for scholarships each fiscal year, each Area Administrator is allocated a specific amount for scholarships that they can administer in their region. Once all the funds have been awarded, Area Administrators may need to create wait lists. There may be wait lists in some counties earlier than in others. If there is an underutilization of allocated funds in some areas, the Department of Education (MDE) will utilize the area wait lists in planning for any redistribution of funds.
You can use your scholarship award to (some limitations and restrictions may apply):
· Cover tuition or other costs of the early learning program
· Serve additional children
· Cover any payment required for a child to receive services such as a co-pay for the Child Care Assistance Program or part of the cost of private child care
· Pay for things like uniforms or activity fees or other family fees the program requires
· Cover absent days (up to 25 days per 12-month period) or closure days in child care programs
· Pay for meals when provided by the program at an additional charge
· Cover basic transportation to and from the program.
In some cases and with prior approval, the Pathway I funds may be used to enhance the early learning program through increasing the type, intensity, and duration of services provided through existing programs.
Many children who receive early learning scholarships are also eligible for and receive Child Care Assistance. If CCAP dollars cover the entire cost of the child’s care, the scholarship won’t be cancelled. Rather, it will be reduced by the Area Administrator and used to provide support if the CCAP funding changes.
Families often use more than one program to meet their child’s needs. However, a parent must select just one program to receive their Pathway I scholarship, unless they are using two programs that operate in a formal partnership. If the child is enrolled in a child care program that is part of a Head Start/Early-Child Care Partnership where Head Start provides services, the scholarship payment will be made to Head Start.
Once a scholarship is awarded, families do not need to update income information and the child remains eligible until they age out.
However, you are required to report changes in address and contact information to the Area Administrator.
For Pathway I scholarships, you should contact the Area Administrator that serves your county. You must complete the application, sign it, include proof of income or participation in a qualifying program, and send or deliver your fully completed application to the Area Administer. Find your Area Administrator here.
Pathway II scholarships are awarded to enrolled students through an eligible Four-Star Parent Aware rated program such as Head Start, school district prekindergarten programs, and child care programs. Check with your current program to see if they receive Early Learning Scholarship funds.