Early Learning Scholarships

Find guidance related to Early Learning Scholarships in the 2020-21 Planning Guidance for Minnesota Public Schools document, available on the COVID-19 Updates webpage. Please reference the Table of Contents within the guidance document to find the Early Learning section.

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 for all young children. Scholarships provide support for children to attend a high-quality early learning program as rated through Parent Aware, Minnesota's quality rating and improvement system. Children birth to age 2 are eligible if identified as being in one or more of the following priority populations:

  • Child of a teen parent;
  • Currently in foster care;
  • In need of child protective services;
  • Experienced homelessness in the last 24 months.

Families must meet eligibility requirements as outlined in Minnesota Statutes, section 124D.165.

At this time, up to $7,500 per scholarship will be awarded. We estimate that funding will support approximately 11,000 scholarships per year, statewide.

Following an extensive stakeholder engagement process and a detailed review of the current cap of $7,500 for a Four-Star Parent Aware-Rated program for an early learning scholarship, Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker has determined that an increase in the cap is warranted. In accordance with the statutory language, the cap will first be increased for FY 2021 for children who have a priority status of being the child of a teen parent under the age of 21 pursuing a high school diploma or GED; in foster care; in need of child protection services; or experiencing homelessness within the last 24 months. The scholarship award cap will be phased in, beginning with up to $10,000 for a Four-Star Parent Aware-Rated program and $7,500 for a Three-Star for just scholars with priority status. With incremental increases based on available funding, the goal is to increase the scholarship cap to eventually align with the Child Care Market Rate study at the 75th percentile. In FY 2022, the raised cap may be expanded to include the general population of scholarship recipients as funds allow. 
Direct questions related to an individual child’s scholarship to the area administrator for Pathway I scholarship awards or the awarding program if a Pathway II scholarship. 

There are two pathways to an early learning scholarship:
Early Learning Scholarships - Pathway I

Pathway I scholarships are awarded directly to families who meet eligibility requirements. Families must have a child between the ages of 3 and 4 as of September 1 of the current year or meet the criteria for priority populations for children from birth to 2 years old.  All  children must meet other eligibility requirements outlined in Minnesota Statutes, section 124D.165. 
Pathway I scholarship funds are paid to the early childhood program that the family chooses. The program must be participating in the Parent Aware Quality Rating and Improvement System and may include Head Start, school district prekindergarten and preschool programs and child care programs. Pathway I scholarships “follow the child” and are awarded to the family for up to 12 months at a time with a renewal option each year as long as the child remains age-eligible.

Note: Starting July 1, 2024, Early Learning Scholarships - Pathway I can be used only at programs with a Three- or Four-Star Parent Aware rating.

Families interested in applying for a Pathway I early learning scholarship should contact the Area Administrator serving their county. Learn more about area administrators.
Early Learning Scholarships - Pathway II
Pathway II scholarships are awarded to families through an eligible Four-Star Parent Aware Rated program that has been granted Pathway II funds. These include Head Start, school district prekindergarten and preschool programs, and child care programs. Child eligibility for Pathway II scholarships is the same as Pathway I. Pathway II scholarships are paid directly to the early childhood program that awarded the scholarship.

Families interested in applying for an Early Learning Scholarship - Pathway II scholarship should contact Pathway II-funded programs in their area. Please see the "Early Learning Scholarship Pathway II Funded Programs by Program Name FY 2020 document" in the Early Learning Scholarship Participation section below. 

For more information on Parent Aware, please visit the Parent Aware website.  
For more information on the Early Learning Scholarships Program, please contact our office at MDE.ELS@state.mn.us.

Program Guidance