Early education advocates and Vikings stadium boosters have become unexpected allies at the Capitol this week. Modeled after Hennepin County's clever use of Target Field excess revenues to pay for more county library services, the early ed crowd seeks a claim on excess revenues generated for the Vikings stadium, to be used for preschool scholarships for low-income families.
A bill sponsored by DFL Rep. Nora Slawik of Maplewood is expected to be offered as an amendment to the stadium bill when it reaches the House floor, perhaps as early as Thursday.
It's pegged to the expectation that the financing mechanism chosen to pay debt service on stadium bonds would be designed to generate enough excess revenue to keep interest rates as low as possible. In the case of Target Field's 0.15 percent sales tax in Hennepin County, enough has been collected above and beyond debt service needs to allot $2 million per year in recent years to Hennepin County Libraries. The 2006 Target Field legislation included that earmark for the excess at the urging of Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin.
For Slawik, who is not seeking reelection this year, the Vikings linkage represents a last stab at achieving a longtime goal of early ed boosters -- a dedicated funding stream for preschool scholarships for low-income families. Eligibility would be for those who recently or currently qualify for public assistance under the Minnesota Family Investment Program.
That approach to improving school readiness was tested in St. Paul and shown to be effective by the now-defunct Minnesota Early Learning Foundation between 2008 and 2011. Ideally, when the foundation's pilot ended, the state would have engineered its continuation and expansion, perhaps with a public-private partnership. But 2011 was a deficit year, and that combined with resistance from some members of the Republican majority to any state involvement with early education to stymie the scholarship effort.
That resistance continues, but 2012 is shaping up as a stadium year. Hitching early ed to that big bandwagon looks like a smart move.