Guest Post: Creating Equitable Early Learning Policies

Many organizations and individuals are seeking equitable policies and solutions to address persistent inequality. We can no longer support systems that created inequity and maintain inequity.

By Voices and Choices for Children Representatives:

  • Dianne Haulcy, Senior Vice President of Family Engagement, Think Small
  • Bharti Wahi, Executive Director at Children’s Defense Fund-MN
  • May Losloso, Senior Organizer at Children’s Defense Fund-MN

What is equity? What is racial equity? These terms are used by many in the policy and political realms and understood in different ways. It can be challenging to narrow down what equity means for different stakeholders and constituents. Inequalities based on race and class are a predominant theme in United States history. These inequalities are often reflected in systems that exist today such as housing, education, voting, and more. The systems that are affected are not only within government institutions, but also in other areas like the private sector, nonprofits, etc. Many organizations and individuals are seeking equitable policies and solutions to address persistent inequality. We can no longer support systems that created inequity and maintain inequity. Bias and discrimination become systematized in ways that include the wealth gap between the white community and communities of color or the higher rates of unemployment in communities of color and American Indian communities. Not only do these systems harm people of color and American Indians, they also do not serve our broader community.

Voices and Choices for Children is a coalition that works closely with Minnesota’s state ethnic councils, state agencies, early childhood funders, non-profits, community-based organizations, early childhood advocates and parents representing communities of color and American Indian communities across the state. Voices and Choices defines racial equity as: the condition that would be achieved if one’s racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares in society. This includes the elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce or fail to eliminate racial stereotypes based on our own biases.

What’s an equitable early learning policy? While equality can be described as dividing something into equal parts of identical size, equity is more flexible and is not about sameness.

An equitable policy addresses the systemic need, directs varying levels of support, and offers sufficient options to meet the different needs of all children and families.  For example, when choosing a child care provider, parents might look at how culture and language needs are addressed. This need might look different for a home where Spanish and English are both spoken and another home where two totally different languages are used. Some families might not consider this a need at all. An equitable policy would address that this need exists and allow for options for all children and families.

Why is equity important in early learning? Minnesota has some of the worst documented income and race-based disparities in outcomes for children in the country. Nearly one-third of Minnesota children live in low-income households and children of color and American Indian children live in low-income households at significantly higher rates than White children. Despite the fact that some children face more barriers to success than others, public policy doesn’t often provide the differential support needed to assure equitable outcomes. These policies do not address the structural racism that underpins our economic, political and civic systems. For this reason, the impact of gaps in early education opportunity can be measured prior to age one. If Minnesota doesn’t intervene with extra and specific support to address the barriers faced by some children, we will never narrow the gaps that pose such an urgent threat to those children and Minnesota’s collective future. Providing families with the resources they need early on can prevent gaps from forming.

What should equitable policies include?  For us to begin to dismantle a structurally and systemically racist system that puts low-income children, children of color and American Indian children at risk, public policies should be designed to address the needs of these marginalized communities. It must contain certain elements that help the community, policy makers, and advocates understand these structural underpinnings. Public policy components are strongly positioned to produce equitable outcomes when all children are positioned to be healthy and thriving in their communities, even those facing significant barriers.

What are the elements to ensure racial equity is built into public policy? The seven policy components in the Equity Index help boost equitable early education outcomes. Elements of equitable public policy should:

  1. Prioritize the needs of low-income children, children of color and American Indian children
  2. Ensure services and programs are provided in a holistic and high quality manner
  3. Address the full needs of a family
  4. Invest in families and communities over time
  5. Allow for flexibility, portability
  6. Build on family and community assets
  7. Hold cultural relevance and specificity as central to how services are provided

The Voices and Choices for Children coalition focuses on developing strongly engaged cultural communities of learning, organizing and advocacy for their input and impact in shaping more equitable practices and policies that will support better outcomes for children of color and American Indian children prenatal to 8 years old across the state. We believe that people of color and American Indians must be at the table as polices are created and decisions made about and for our children.

There are several systems and services parents can access during their children’s early years. There is no one size fits all answer and parents make decisions based on what makes the most sense for them and their family with regards to child care and school readiness. Will the best option be a family member? A licensed child care facility? How culturally responsive are the programs offered?

Over the past year, we have been exploring how to better assess the equity impact of specific policy proposals. It is important to look at several factors like data and stories on how policy priorities will affect communities of color and American Indian communities. We have come up with seven elements (summarized above) that might increase the level of equity of certain programs or policies. These will be highlighted in future posts. Our goal is to come to a more common understanding of equity so that outcomes for our kids will improve, not just in the language, but in practice.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey

Policy Hour: Previewing the 2018 Legislative Session

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

Facts and speculation both made appearances at February’s Ann Kaner-Roth Policy Hour at Think Small in Minneapolis, and Sara(h)s abounded.

Sara Benzkofer, Sarah Orange, Sarah Clarke, and Jessica Anderson presented during the February Ann Kaner-Roth Policy Hour at Think Small.

Sarah Orange, Policy Advocate for the Minnesota budget Project, talked about the state budget forecast. The 2018 legislative session begins on February 20 and is the second year of the state’s two year budget cycle. The legislature sets the budget in odd-numbered years and often prioritizes bonding in even-numbered years. They don’t necessarily have to pass legislation in the even-numbered (or “off”) years, but they often do.

The November budget forecast predicted an upcoming deficit of $188 million for the current biennium, growing to $586 million in the next biennium. However, there have been several changes since November that will be reflected in the February forecast, which comes out at the end of this month.

Continue reading Policy Hour: Previewing the 2018 Legislative Session

Early Education Spotlight: Big Red House

Early Education Spotlight is an ongoing series that showcases great work happening in high-quality child care and preschool settings across Minnesota. From innovative early learning programs to parent perspectives on what works, check out the Early Education Spotlight for unique examples of Minnesota’s early learning successes.

By Marie Huey, Video by Kristie Thorson

Greta Miller with one of the children in her family child care program.

“I need to step up my game to ensure the kids who go through my program are learning, are healthy, are happy, are engaged.”

This is one of many pieces of knowledge Greta Miller has gained during her journey as a child care provider, and every day she works to meet these goals. She began 18 years ago when her first child was born. While attending college, she formed a partnership with another student-parent, and they shared responsibility of running a family child care program. Greta left school, but continued to do child care in Moorhead, Minnesota—first in a rented duplex, then in a home.

Big Red House Childcare

In her old house, the child care materials were everywhere, and it was difficult to disconnect at the end of the day. She designed her current house with a dedicated basement space for child care including hard surface floors, a sink, a child-friendly bathroom, sleeping room, and space to keep supplies organized. She also gave it an inviting (and accurate) name: Big Red House.

Greta figured she’d move on from child care when her five kids entered school, but she’s only grown to love it more now that they are older (her youngest is 6). She completed the Child Care Credential several years ago in Detroit Lakes. The series of classes/trainings refreshed her knowledge of child care development, connected her with a small community of dedicated providers, and motivated her to professionalize her program with a name, logo, and webpage.

Watch this video to get a look inside the Big Red House.

Pursuing new learning opportunities, like that credential, are what keep her engaged and motivated. She participated in Parent Aware when it first arrived in Clay County. Her awesome coach supported her to fine tune some of the strategies she was already using. Using a T.E.A.C.H. scholarship, she attended a Southwest Minnesota State University online program in early education. The internet also provides her with new inspiration for activities and supplies to keep the program engaging.

Continue reading Early Education Spotlight: Big Red House

Attend a Precinct Caucus and Submit a Resolution to Support Early Learning

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

On Tuesday, February 6 at 7:00 p.m., Minnesota will hold precinct caucuses around the state. They are the beginning of a process that Minnesota’s major political parties use for choosing the candidates and the issues they will support in elections. You can find out where your caucus is by using the Secretary of State’s Caucus Finder.

Attending your party’s precinct caucus provides you with an opportunity to advance an issue that matters to you, support the candidates of your choice, and build your involvement in the political process. You can learn more about what to expect by visiting the Secretary of State’s website about precinct caucuses.

Beyond voting for the candidate of your choice, another way to participate in the caucus is by submitting a resolution. Resolutions are position statements that can be adopted at the precinct level and advanced to become party positions.

What does a resolution look like?

A resolution is usually a one-page document that outlines:

  • The problem or opportunity
  • A rationale for a position for the issue
  • A policy statement about what should be done about the issue 

How do I present my resolution?

  • There is time for resolutions on the agenda
  • Resolutions must be presented in writing
  • Present your proposal and the reasons for it. Be persuasive! (It helps to lobby early and have copies).
  • If there is disagreement, the caucus chair will facilitate debate (often 3 statements for and 3 against).


Use this sample resolution at your caucus to support early learning:

Whereas, Minnesota has some of the worst opportunity and achievement gaps in the nation; and

Whereas, improving the early learning landscape across Minnesota improves the lives of children and the future of our state; and

Whereas, children start learning at birth;

Therefore, be it resolved that the _________ Party supports:

  • increasing access for the most vulnerable children to attend high-quality early care and education programs by expanding Early Learning Scholarships,
  • continued support of Parent Aware- Minnesota’s quality rating system for early learning programs, and
  • eliminating the wait list for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) so all children from low-income families can access quality early learning programs starting at birth.

Small Talks – Don’t Expel Me: Social Emotional Strategies for a More Inclusive Child Care Program

Small Talks features leaders who share key insights on early childhood education and discuss innovative solutions to early learning issues in Minnesota.

By Kristie Thorson

The Small Talks panel

The third Small Talks panel presentation focused around research that indicates children are being expelled from preschool at an alarming rate.  Don’t Expel Me: Social Emotional Strategies for a More Inclusive Child Care Program took place on January 9, 2018, at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul.  During the early morning event, attendees discussed early childhood expulsion, strategies for changing adult behaviors, and the need for a systemic response.

“Many people are really aware of how bad expulsion is, and how detrimental it is to young children in our K-12 system, but the assumption is always that it doesn’t happen in early childhood,” said panelist Cisa Keller, Senior Vice President of Early Childhood Quality Development at Think Small.  “Why would you ever expel three-year-olds?” But Keller went on to share that expulsion happens in early childhood programs at three to four times the rate then it happens in K-12 systems.

Small Talks was held at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul.

“Yale University actually did a study on early childhood programs from all sorts of settings and what they found was that there was a significant amount of implicit bias that was happening with all of the teachers regardless of their race, their gender, or the program setting,” said Keller.

One of the ways Think Small is working to help solve the problem locally is through Project Inclusion, a program for early educators that combines social-emotional classroom training and one-on-one coaching.

Click below to watch a video about Project Inclusion, featuring a local provider and her coach.

“The coach’s role isn’t to help the provider work with one specific child in their program.  Instead, it’s to help the child care provider understand how their behavior and their environment can help foster better social-emotional development for all of the children,” said panelist Candace Yates, Quailty Supports Manager at Think Small.

Continue reading Small Talks – Don’t Expel Me: Social Emotional Strategies for a More Inclusive Child Care Program

Policy Hour – Early Childhood Data

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

Ann Kaner-Roth

January Policy Hour started with a special announcement: the event is now named the Ann Kaner-Roth Policy Hour. Ann served as the Executive Director of Child Care Works from 2000-2008. She went on to spearhead work around marriage equality. At the time of her death in December 2017, she was serving as the Deputy Secretary of State—once again looking out for those who did not have a voice in our political system. In honor of her contributions to the field and her commitment to working in coalition, Policy Hour will be re-named the “Ann Kaner-Roth Policy Hour”.

This month’s discussion was about Minnesota early childhood data.

Anita Larson, MN Department of Education

Anita Larson from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), presented on their Early Childhood Longitudinal Data System. ECLDS (pronounces “e-sleds”) integrates data from several state agencies to provide information on program access and outcomes for young children. It is the Pre-K version of SLEDS (Statewide Longitudinal Education Data System).

MDE takes information from the other agencies, de-identifies it to protect privacy, and makes it available. The result is not real-time data for teachers to make classroom decisions, but rather information that shows how different groups of children participate in certain programs.

Continue reading Policy Hour – Early Childhood Data

Policies in Play: Child Care Assistance Program Changes

The Policies in Play series takes a closer look at the recently passed state legislative policies that affect early care and education. We work with partners to find out what these policies look like in action and how they impact Minnesota children and families.

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

During the 2017 session, state legislators passed many changes to help Minnesota come into compliance with federal updates to the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). This is the primary source of funding for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) which provides financial assistance to help families with low incomes pay for child care so that parents may pursue employment or education leading to employment, and that children are well cared for and prepared to enter school.

Nicolee Mensing

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) is rolling out the extensive program changes in phases, so most of the policies are still new. To find out about the status of these changes so far, I talked with Nicolee Mensing, Think Small’s Director of Family Financial Assistance. Think Small administers Basic Sliding CCAP for Ramsey County.

The main change to the program is the 12 month eligibility period. Previously parents had to complete a redetermination for CCAP every 6 months, but now they will only need to reapply once a year. During those 12 months, copayments will not go up with changes in family income, although they can go down if the family’s income decreases. Most families have to report less information during this time about changes in work or school schedules. Additionally, there are only a few reasons that the number of hours a child is authorized to attend child care would be reduced. Finally, a family will remain eligible for the program during the 12 month period until their income reaches 85% of the State Median Income.  This number was previously 67%. The main goal of these policies is to provide more stability for children, parents, and child care providers. Mensing observes that this seems to be the case so far.

Some families will continue to report information as before. These “scheduled reporters” are those who 1) use legally nonlicensed providers (Family, Friend, or Neighbor care) 2) use two or more providers 3) work at a Department of Human Services licensed child care facility, or 4) are employed by certain health care providers. Case Managers keep track of who is a scheduled reporter and therefore needs to report information more regularly.

Continue reading Policies in Play: Child Care Assistance Program Changes

Early Education Spotlight: People Serving People

Early Education Spotlight is an ongoing series that showcases great work happening in high-quality child care and preschool settings across Minnesota. From innovative early learning programs to parent perspectives on what works, check out the Early Education Spotlight for unique examples of Minnesota’s early learning successes.

By Marie Huey (Video by Kristie Thorson)

People Serving People in Minneapolis.

People Serving People is Minnesota’s largest and most comprehensive homeless shelter, housing around 100 families per night. The average age of children at the shelter is six, so the shelter provides resources to support young children and their parents.  One of these resources is a child care center. With four classrooms and capacity for 42 children, the child care center is Four Star Parent Aware rated and accredited through the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA).

Teachers at the center need unique skills and knowledge to best serve the children and families.

“Part of our ongoing, process both in the shelter as a whole and in our specific department, is talking about what [trauma] can do to your brain—what it might look like for a family experiencing homelessness. We build that skillset right away in our teachers,” says Emma Juon, Educational Services Manager. While some come with knowledge of trauma-informed care, PSP builds on that knowledge and incorporates new information as it becomes available. Continue reading Early Education Spotlight: People Serving People

Early Childhood Advocates Partner to Provide Parent Trainings

By Megan McLaughlin, Way to Grow

Think Small Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Marie Huey, speaks to parents during a  training session at Joyce Preschool in Minneapolis.

Several organizations that serve children and families recently worked together to provide trainings for Minneapolis parents. As part of a grant from Minnesota Comeback, Way to Grow is partnering with other organizations, including Think Small, to engage parents in advocacy opportunities.

Another parent training session was held at Center for Families.

The “My Voice Matters” advocacy trainings covered skills and strategies that parents of young children can use to enhance their ability to advocate. Parents from Way to Grow and Joyce Preschool attended the trainings, which were simultaneously translated into Somali, Spanish, and Hmong. Continue reading Early Childhood Advocates Partner to Provide Parent Trainings

Policy Hour – Improving the Early Childhood Workforce

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

December Policy Hour presenters shared information about state and national initiatives that are working to enhance and improve the early childhood workforce.

Sara Benzkofer provided updates on Power to the Profession.

Power to the Profession
Sara Benzkofer, Director of Policy and Communications at MnAEYC-MnSACA, joined us to provide updates on Power to the Profession. Power to the Profession is a national collaboration to define the early childhood profession by establishing a unifying framework for career pathways, knowledge and competencies, qualifications, standards, and compensation.

The task force leading the initiative is made up of 15 organizations. Additional stakeholder organizations participate in the process, and the initiative also solicits feedback from people in the field.

The process includes 8 decision cycles that build off each other. So far, two cycles are complete. The first cycle focused on professional identity, defining the work as the Early Childhood Education Profession within the Early Childhood Field. Seven responsibilities of Early Childhood Professionals emerged from the work, including the importance of engaging families, observing and assessing children’s learning, and implementing developmentally appropriate curriculum. Find more in-depth information, including Sara’s PowerPoint presentation, here.

The next three decision cycles will be combined into one and include questions such as: How should the field be structured? What should the preparation programs look like? Surveys should open soon, and NAEYC will collect feedback until April. Find more information about the surveys here.

Minnesota was the highest-responding state in the first two cycles. Sara encouraged continued advocacy and engagement, and suggested Early Childhood Professionals share the information with Gubernatorial candidates.

Debbie Hewitt presented on the B8 Work Group and the National Governors Association.

Debbie Hewitt, Early Learning Services Supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Education, presented information about two initiatives that are also addressing early childhood education workforce issues.

B8 Work Group
The Birth to eight years old (B8) Team used the 2015 Institute of Medicine report Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation, to inform their work and create a 10 year plan to implement in the state.

The Team now has a draft plan and is seeking feedback on their work.

Debbie introduced a new website during her presentation, which contains all of the information about the effort. You can watch a webinar on the recommendations, read related reports, and complete a survey about Minnesota’s Early Childhood Workforce. Feedback is due by the end of March 2018.

National Governors Association
Minnesota was one of a handful of states that were selected to work on ECE workforce issues as part of the National Governors Association. The advisory group of this initiative decided to focus on compensation. Wages for the field remain very low, and turnover is high.

Goals of the NGA group recommendations were:

  • Raise base pay
  • Reward for quality (program level)
  • Reward for education (individual level)
  • Bring more resources into programs so they can pay better
  • Provide other resources for individuals that aren’t base pay but increase their financial well-being.

To address these goals, the group looked at a variety of strategies that other states have used and determined which of those would be most useful and feasible for Minnesota. Their recommendations are:

  • Tax credits
  • Continue and increase T.E.A.C.H. and R.E.E.T.A.I.N.
  • Increase access to business education and shared services
  • Tie compensation to increased public funding
  • Implement a wage ladder, where pay increases as education increases (More research is needed to figure out if this would be a feasible or useful strategy)
  • Increase private sector support, potentially including tax credits
  • Collaborate with other groups, including the B8 Workforce Team
  • Continue to raise awareness about the critical importance of fair and adequate compensation

The group presented their recommendations to the Children’s Cabinet and Governor Dayton. Once the full report is finalized, they will share it with stakeholders.