The Legislature approved an unprecedented $46 million for preschool education scholarships this year, thanks in large part to an unusual philanthropic coalition.

The Start Early Funders Coalition for Children was formed in 2011 to bring focus to the disparate early childhood agendas at the State Capitol. Those agendas were melded into one goal this session, namely scholarships for quality preschool education for disadvantaged children.

Thanks to a united lobbying effort with dozens of nonprofits, the funders coalition has paved the way for about 10,000 Minnesota preschoolers to attend top-notch preschool programs to prepare them for kindergarten.

“We think this is the largest advance in early childhood education in years,” said Frank Forsberg, senior vice president at the Greater Twin Cities United Way.

Forsberg and Denise Mayotte, executive director of the Sheltering Arms Foundation in Minneapolis, are co-chairpersons of the coalition.

Funding for quality preschools for low-income children has been a goal for children’s advocates for years. Different children’s advocates lobbied for different approaches — better training for child care providers, a child care rating system, more child care subsidies for parents.

This year the coalition, comprising more than 20 members of Minnesota’s foundation community, created a lobbying campaign called MinneMinds, which spearheaded the charge for a single goal of child scholarships.

The resulting new law gives disadvantaged preschoolers grants of up to $5,000 to attend quality child care centers, Head Start programs, home day cares and school programs.

The $46 million scholarships came on top of $45 million Minnesota received last year in the federal Race to the Top early learning grants. The coalition helped finance Minnesota’s grant application, said Forsberg.

This year’s legislative success was built on the years of work by nonprofits at the Capitol, said Forsberg and Mayotte. Said Forsberg: “We hope to be back for future legislative sessions.”