With kindergarten readiness rising to the forefront of nationwide educational priorities, Blue Earth and Nicollet counties will be part of a multi-million dollar program to address that issue among low-income families.

One of the leading strategies in preparing children for kindergarten is providing child-care facilities that feature educational curriculum. That’s especially important for low-income families who, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, are much less likely to read their child a book, teach them a song or tell them a story.

And that’s where the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation and Parent Aware come in.

“Nothing is up and running yet,” said Trish Reedstrom, who is heading the project for Blue Earth County. “But we’re hoping this will help kids get better prepared for kindergarten.”

Blue Earth and Nicollet counties are participating in a Parent Aware pilot program — the other two pilots are in the Twin Cities area — in which low-income families can receive financial allowances to pay for early education and child-care opportunities.

Those financial allowances are to be used on “quality” child-care facilities as defined by the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation’s rating system. To be considered a “quality” program, it must have an educational curriculum, have assessment standards and communicate results with the family. The ratings will then be used to help low-income families choose a child-care site.

And although the program is still months away from implementation, the money is waiting. Barb Yates, director of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation, said Parent Aware will receive about $6 million to spread between the three pilot programs.

“This is kind of a different way of financing early child care,” Yates said. “But I think we have a great effort going.”

Although the logistical components of the program — how the allowances will be applied for and dispensed, which child-care facilities will participate — will not be worked out until mid-October, Yates estimated the project will be up and running in January.

Yates said her organization has projected that as many as 560 of Blue Earth and Nicollet counties’ 3- and 4-year-olds will be eligible for the allowances.

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