Early Learning Scholarships Program

Find guidance related to Early Learning Scholarships in the most recent 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.

Apply for a Scholarship

To apply for a Pathway I state early learning scholarship, contact the Area Administrator serving your county. List of Area Administrators and eligibility criteria.

Note: We do not accept scholarship applications at the Minnesota Department of Education.

What is an Early Learning Scholarship?

An Early Learning Scholarship can help you pay for high-quality child care and early education to help your child get ready for school. A scholarship must be used at a Parent Aware-Rated program. Parent Aware is a rating tool to help parents select high-quality child care and early education programs. For more information, visit the Parent Aware website. 
The 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. Children birth to 2 years old are eligible if they meet one or more of the following criteria:
  • Child of a teen parent.
  • Currently in foster care.
  • In need of child protective services.
  • Experienced homelessness in the last 24 months.
Priority for scholarships will be given based on family income, child poverty, one of the special populations as noted previously, and geographic region. Families must meet eligibility requirements as outlined in Minnesota Statutes, section 124D.165.

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 of the Pathway I scholarship or the awarding program if a Pathway II scholarship. 

Where Can my Child Use a Pathway I Early Learning Scholarship?

Pathway I scholarships are awarded directly to families who meet eligibility requirements. Pathway I scholarship funds are paid to the early childhood program that the family chooses. You may use your Pathway I Early Learning Scholarship at any eligible child care or early education program in Minnesota with a Parent Aware Rating. Pathway I Scholarships “follow the child” and are awarded to the family for up to 12 months.
Scholarship amounts are based on the Parent Aware rating level of the program you choose.

Families interested in applying for an Early Learning Scholarship through Pathway I should contact the Area Administrator serving their county. Learn more about area administrators.

Where Can my Child Use a Pathway II Early Learning Scholarship?

Pathway II scholarships are awarded to families through an eligible Four-Star Parent Aware Rated program. These include Head Start, school district prekindergarten and preschool programs, and child care programs. Programs participating as a Pathway II scholarship administrator receive Pathway II scholarship funds for up to 12 months.

For more information on the Early Learning Scholarships, please email MDE.ELScholarships@state.mn.us or call your home county's area administrator. 
To review available data and reports for the Early Learning Scholarships Program, visit our other Early Learning Scholarships webpage.