MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota is among the worst states when it comes to achievement gaps in our schools. Poor students lag far behind their counterparts, but three grants aim to help change that.
"If they start kindergarten healthy and ready to learn, the research shows, odds are, they're going to be proficient in the third grade and do very well in school," said Art Rolnick with Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Rolnick's is among the leaders in the state trying to make a change and among those that believe early childhood education is the key.
"I'm going to argue that's the best possible economic development program you can have anywhere," said Rolnick.
His organization ran pilot programs in St. Paul, awarding scholarships to parents, so they could afford early childhood programs. And now they received an $18 million federal grant to continue and grow their work.
"We're pretty excited that we now have some funds to replicate and show we know how to do this and the next step then will be to bring it to scale so that every poverty child in the state will get a high-quality, early-childhood program," he said.
Rolnick isn't the only one doing good work. The Northside Achievement Zone also received a grant. They are one of just five neighborhoods in the country to get the $28 million "Promised Neighborhood" grant. The organization, made up of some 50 community organizations, has a cradle to college philosophy. They, too, believe in early childhood programs.
"This is going to really, really make a difference because if you give a child a strong beginning and they start kindergarten ready to learn, their trajectory, the outcomes that we're seeing by 3rd grade, by middle school, by high school, go up exponentially," said Sondra Samuels, CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone.
The program will also get some help from the state of Minnesota, who received a $45 million "Race to the Top" grant. That federal money will also be used to close the gap in places like the White Earth Indian Reservation and Itasca County.
Minnesota was one of just nine states to receive the grant.
Rolnick hopes that in five years time the state will have an endowed fund to help poor children across the state pay for early childhood education. A fund he says can be paid for through private donations, federal and state money.
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