Families First of Minnesota serves the following counties:  Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Dodge, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Isanti, Kanabec, Le Sueur, Martin, Mille Lacs, Mower, Nicollet, Olmsted, Pine, Rice, Scott, Sibley, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca, Watonwan, Winona

Contact us at: 1-888-450-2773 or
Please Mail Applications to:
Families First ELS
126 Woodlake Drive SE
Rochester, MN 55904
or scan and email to:

Pathway I Early Learning Scholarships

What is an Early Learning Scholarship?

An Early Learning Scholarship can help you pay for high-quality child care and early education programs to help your child get ready for school.

Early Learning Scholarships must be used at a Parent Aware-Rated program.  Parent Aware is a rating tool to help parents select a high-quality child care or early education program.  For more information, visit the Parent Aware website, (ParentAware.org).

Each child who has been awarded a scholarship is eligible to receive up to $8,5oo for a 12 month period, depending on tuition costs and the Parent Aware Star rating of the program.  Children meeting certain criteria may be eligible for up to $12,000 per 12-month period.  The scholarship is also renewable until the child is Kindergarten eligible.  Scholarship funds are paid to the early childhood program that the family chooses which may include Parent Aware rated Family or Center-based Child Care Programs, Preschool Programs, School District Programs, or Head Start Programs.

Is my child eligible?

Early Learning Scholarships are for children who were 3 or 4 before September 1, 2021, and are not yet enrolled in kindergarten.

Below is a chart you can use to determine if a child is age-eligible for an Early Learning Scholarship:

Child’s birth date range Is the child eligible for a scholarship starting 9/1/2021 Will this child still be eligible for a scholarship starting 9/1/2022
9/2/2016 – 8/31-2017 Yes No, over age
9/2/2017 – 8/31/2018 Yes Yes
9/2/2018 – Current Must meet a priority category  -see below
9/1/2016 and Older Too old to be age-eligible for an Early Learning Scholarship

Children birth to 5-years old may be eligible if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • A parent of the child is under the age of 21 and currently pursuing a high school diploma or GED.  You must provide written proof of current participation on official letterhead from the organization you are attending
  • The child is in foster care or in need of child protective services
  • The family has experienced homelessness in the previous 24-months
  • The child has a sibling who has already been awarded or is age-eligible according to the chart above.  The younger child must be attending the same program as the older child to be eligible.

Note: Families must also meet income eligibility requirements after meeting at least one of the above eligibility criteria.

Income Eligibility Requirements:

Your family must meet at least one of the listed requirements for either Option 1 OR Option 2.

Option 1 – Federally Funded Public Programs

If you currently participate in one of the programs listed below, you must attach an official document to show participation in the program:

    • Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP)
    • Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP)
    • Free and Reduced-Price Lunch Program (FRLP)
    • Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
    • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
    • Food Support (SNAP)
    • Head Start
    • Foster Care

Acceptable proof of participation includes: official notice on program letterhead; application with program approval/signature; authorization form from the public program; current bill or receipt from the program; or screenshot from the program’s official system of record.

Documentation must list the date and list either the parent or child’s name to be considered valid.

Option 2 – Income Verification

Attach acceptable proof of all income for each adult listed on the application.  This may include one of the following:

    • Previous year’s tax form (must include an INK signature on the document to be accepted)
    • W-2 form from previous year
    • Two most recent pay stubs (for each member of the household with income)
    • Financial aid statement
    • Statement from and employer on company letterhead

If any household has no income, sign and submit the self-declaration of no income on page 12 of the application.

The chart below is based on the 2021 poverty guidelines published in the Federal Register on 1/13/2021.  The household’s gross income must be less than or equal to the amount listed to qualify, or the family must be able to prove current participation in a public program.

How do I apply for an Early Learning Scholarship?

To apply for a Pathway I – Early Learning Scholarship, the legal guardian of the child must follow these steps:

  • Print and complete the application.  Please be sure that all required areas have been completed and the application has been signed in ink.  Electronic signatures will not be accepted.
  • Include required proof of income either Option 1 or Option 2.  The application will be returned if appropriate documents are not provided.
  • Submit your original application to the Families First office in-person or by mail to:

Families First of Minnesota

Early Learning Scholarships

126 Woodlake Drive SE

Rochester, MN 55904

English Application Form
Spanish Application Form
Somali Application Form
Hmong Application Form

Where can my child use a scholarship?

You may use your Pathway I Early Learning Scholarship at any Parent Aware rated child care or early education program in Minnesota your child attends on a regular basis.

Your child does not need to be enrolled or attending a program at the time you apply for an Early Learning Scholarship.  If you need help locating qualifying programs, please contact your scholarship Area Administrator, or Parent Aware at 888-291-9811, or go to the Parent Aware Website (ParentAware.org).  If your child is currently attending a program, but you would like to explore other options, they can help you with this as well.

If you have any questions, or to request an application,

please contact a Families First of Minnesota Scholarship Administrator at 888-450-2773 or email elsinfo@familiesfirstmn.org

For families living in other counties in Minnesota, call 1-888-291-9811 for further assistance.

Visit www.bridgetobenefits.org for other financial resources.

Funding provided by the Minnesota Department of Education using state funding to support administration of Early Learning Scholarships,
Minnesota Statutes, section 124D.165.

The Early Learning Scholarship Use in Minnesota report for Fiscal Year 2019 is now available.  Click the link below for more information:

The Early Learning Scholarship Use in Minnesota-State Fiscal Year 2019