By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota House Democrats unveiled an ambitious plan today to spend half a billion dollars to give Minnesota’s youngest citizens a boost.

The plan targets children from birth to age three.

It calls for the spending of $190 million for pre-k scholarships for 25,000 Minnesota kids. Another $60 million would go to existing pre-k programs, while $190 million is allocated for childcare assistance. An additional $22 million would go to aide child care workers.

The Democrats are looking to spend half a billion dollars from the state’s $1.3 billion surplus.

Republican Senator Carla Nelson, the powerful Education Funding and Policy Chair is receptive to the Democrats’ plan.

“It was costing our family as much as it was to send him to the University of Minnesota,” said Alison Petri. Her husband, a Marine veteran, needed treatment for PTSD, which meant the family could no longer afford their son Colin’s pre-k program.

She applied for and received a $7,500 state scholarship.

“It allowed him to stay in pre-school, it allowed my husband to receive care at the VA and I was able to stay on track with my career rather than putting myself in the back seat as Moms usually do,” Petri said.

At a news conference House DFL leaders announced their goal for the scholarship program: to close Minnesota’s notorious achievement gap.

Their proposal would expand the number of affordable day care spots for infants and toddlers. Provider Karen Devos from Ada Minnesota described how tough it is in their community

“We currently only have four infant spots at our center in ADA . We cant afford any more than that,” Devos said.

The question, however, is whether Republicans will buy in. “They have adopted something that many of us bipartisanly have talked about for years,” Devos said.

Now that doesn’t mean a complete green light from Republicans, but it is a clear sign both sides are looking at helping Minnesota’s youngest citizens.

Governor Tim Walz’s office says his supplemental budget will focus on education, but he is hedging on a big House proposal and is waiting for the updated budget later this month to see how much of a surplus the state really has.

Esme Murphy