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

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

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.

Policy Hour – Changes to Child Care in Minnesota

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

Staff from DHS presented at Policy Hour.

Staff from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) presented at November Policy Hour about the changes to child care in Minnesota. During the 2017 legislative session, many changes passed to help Minnesota come into compliance with federal updates to the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).

Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) Changes
Nicole Frethem gave an overview of changes to CCAP. Families receiving CCAP will now have 12 months of continuous eligibility, providing more stability than the previous system of redetermining eligibility every 6 months. During those 12 months, copayments will not go up with changes in family income, although they can go down if necessary. Most families will have to report less information during this time about changes in work schedule or child care needs.

Providers will now have to receive payments within 21 days, which is faster than the previous requirement of 30 days. For more information about CCAP changes, refer to this document.

Licensing
Michelle McGregor gave an overview of changes to child care licensing. License-exempt programs that serve children receiving CCAP will now need to go through a certification process. This includes many after school programs and requires them to meet additional health and safety standards, along with some other new requirements.

Continue reading Policy Hour – Changes to Child Care in Minnesota

Children Experiencing Homelessness Benefit from Early Learning Scholarship Changes


By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

Early Learning Scholarships allow children ages 3-5 from low-income families to attend high-quality early learning programs. During the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers made a change to allow children 0-5 from certain groups to access the scholarships on a priority basis. One of the priority groups is children experiencing homelessness.

To find out what this change looks like in action, we visited People Serving People in Minneapolis. People Serving People is the region’s largest and most comprehensive family-focused homeless shelter. The average age of children at the shelter is six, so staff have extensive experience working with very young children.

Emma Juon, People Serving People, Minneapolis.

Emma Juon, Educational Services Manager at the emergency shelter, said they are already seeing the impact of the recent change. Some children weren’t able to access scholarships after leaving the shelter because they were too young. Now all children under five are eligible. This helps set them up for success.

“Before there were so many families that were discounted for it because their kids were two and under, three and under, but now they all count,” said Juon.

Once children receive an early learning scholarship, they are able to stay on it until kindergarten as long as they renew it each year. This continuity is extremely beneficial for children who have experienced the disruption and trauma of homelessness.

The flexibility of the scholarship is crucial. When families move out of the shelter, they have different schedules and needs. The scholarship allows them to choose what works best. While it stabilizes the child’s schedule, it is also helpful for the parents to have a reliable and consistent place to leave their child while at work.

Watch a short video clip of Emma Juon discussing what the changes will mean for families at People Serving People.

The recent change is reaching the children and families who need it, and Juon is encouraged by its effectiveness. However, there is more demand. The current funding does not cover the total need.

“More funding for scholarships means that we can help more families get on those scholarships – more families experiencing homelessness can have their child on a scholarship from age 6 weeks until they go to kindergarten,” said Juon.  “We unfortunately don’t have the space in our onsite center to take in all the children, even in our own shelter, so more funding means that we can hook up more families with Pathway I money so they can go out into the community and access high quality early learning.”

Families First: Connecting Southern MN Children with Early Learning Scholarships

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 Jon Losness and Sara Stebbins

For over 40 years, Families First of Minnesota (formally Child Care Resource and Referral) has been a non-profit organization in our community working as a resource for parents, child care programs, and community members in all areas of early childhood.  Our programs reach families in 20 southern counties across the state, as well as greater Minnesota in the case of Early Learning Scholarships.

We help ensure positive beginnings for all young children and their families by offering the following programs in the Rochester area and beyond:

  • Child Care Aware (20 counties)
  • Crisis Nursery (Olmsted County)
  • Early Head Start (Olmsted, Freeborn, also with Semcac and Three River partnerships in Rice and Winona)
  • Early Learning Scholarships (28 counties)
  • Head Start (Olmsted, Freeborn)
  • School Readiness (Rochester)

Families First’s role in Early Learning Scholarships is that of Area Administrator in which we administer services that meet the grant requirements under an obligation to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). This current fiscal year we are working with an awarded amount of $7.3 million.  This means we award and manage scholarships to qualifying families in 4 Regional Areas making up 28 Minnesota counties, with 2 of these areas being newly added this fiscal period: Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha, Winona, Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Sibley, Waseca, Watonwan, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Pine, Carver, Dakota and Scott. Currently, we are serving almost 1000 children in these areas.

Continue reading Families First: Connecting Southern MN Children with Early Learning Scholarships

Policy Hour: Early Education Policy and Funding Changes

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

Amanda Varley and June Reineke from MDE presented at the October 2017 Policy Hour.

Representatives from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) presented at the first Policy Hour of the season. June Reineke and Amanda Varley shared updates on changes to early education policy and funding from the 2017 legislative session.

Early Learning Scholarships
Early Learning Scholarships are funds used to increase access to high-quality early childhood programs for three to five year olds and zero to two year olds in some circumstances. They aim to support kindergarten readiness for children with the highest needs.

Pathway I Scholarships are awarded to eligible children through an Area Administrator. Parents choose the program where they would like to use the scholarship. Pathway II Scholarships are awarded to children through a Four Star Parent Aware rated early childhood site. Programs apply to receive the Pathway II funds.

Varley noted the impressive expansion of scholarship funding, which started out as $2 million for select areas in 2013 and is now a $70.2 million statewide program. They will serve an estimated 16,000 children in the current fiscal year (July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018).

Continue reading Policy Hour: Early Education Policy and Funding Changes

Northeastern Minnesota Addresses Child Care Shortage

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

Five child care programs in Northeastern Minnesota are receiving a boost from state funds. The Northland Foundation received a grant from the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to increase availability of child care in the region.

While a child care shortage is a problem statewide, the Northland’s situation is especially shocking. The Northland Foundation serves the communities of Northeastern Minnesota which include Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, an St. Louis counties. In that region, over 80% of moms work. A 55% growth in child care slots is needed to meet the demands of families with children six and younger, which is the highest in the state. Additionally, the poverty rate for children under 5 is significant, around 25%. While an increase in access is urgent, it is especially important that those openings are high-quality, in order to give vulnerable children a great start. Continue reading Northeastern Minnesota Addresses Child Care Shortage

West Central Minnesota Child Care Providers Benefit from Forgivable Loans

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, Civic Engagement Specialist

Like many communities across the state and especially in Greater Minnesota, the West Central region is experiencing a child care shortage.  West Central Initiative (WCI) serves the counties of Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse, and Wilkin, and is the area designated as Minnesota’s Economic Development Region IV.  Child care providers are leaving the field for a variety of reasons, from low compensation to reaching retirement age, making infant care in many areas especially difficult to find.

Because WCI heard from their region that improving access to child care was crucially important, they decided to “flip the switch” on financial supports to the field.  When the state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) announced the Request for Proposal for Greater Minnesota child care grants, WCI was ready to apply.  Greg Wagner, Business and Economic Development Director at WCI, spoke with me to explain the process and impact on child care providers in the area.

Continue reading West Central Minnesota Child Care Providers Benefit from Forgivable Loans