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

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

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.

Early Sprouts: Growing Great Gardeners


By Kristie Thorson

There is much more ‘being planted’ in this backyard then simple seeds and seedlings.  These Minnesota children, along with their family child care provider, are also developing a perennial love of gardening, and with that, a desire to always eat their veggies!

Taking turns watering the garden is a favorite activity.

It’s all part of Think Small’s Early Sprouts program – a hands-on curriculum which teaches children about healthy eating and guides family child care providers through planting, gathering and serving nutritious foods in their programs.

“Early Sprouts is focused on giving providers experience and knowledge around adding a garden to their program,” said Rochelle Mateffy, an early childhood coach at Think Small.

Thanks to the generous support of the Cargill, Think Small is able to offer the Early Sprouts program to providers in the Twin Cities area at no cost.  Family child care providers attend training classes and then they work with an Early Childhood Coach from Think Small to incorporate a garden into their family child care setting.  This past planting season, twelve child care providers participated in the program.  There were four from St. Paul, four from Minneapolis, one from Brooklyn Center and one from Brooklyn Park.

The children participate in the full garden experience from planting to harvesting.

“For the kids, the focus of this program is to give them the garden to table experience,” said Mateffy. “To teach them where their food comes from and also give them an opportunity to try these vegetables.”

Family child care provider, Wendy Prokosch, harvests green beans with one of the kids.

Family child care provider, Wendy Prokosch, owns and operates Lil’ Pro Family Child Care, a four-star Parent Aware rated program in Brooklyn Park.

“I have a lot of picky eaters and I was hoping Early Sprouts would give them more exposure and because of the ownership in the process that they’d actually experiment a little bit more,” said Prokosch.  “And it worked!  They are trying things that they normally would not even try.”

To see the Early Sprouts program in action, check out this video from Lil’ Pro Family Child Care.

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

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

Policy Hour: Parent Aware Changes & Legislative Update

The final Policy Hour of the season was a double dose of early education information! We heard about changes to Parent Aware and received an end of legislative session update.

Parent Aware

June Policy Hour at Think Small

First, Michelle Lenhart and Nara Topp joined us from the Department of Human Services (DHS) to discuss changes to Parent Aware. Parent Aware is Minnesota’s Quality Rating and Improvement System. Participation is voluntary for child care providers, and it offers tools and resources to help:

  • Families find quality child care and early education
  • Programs improve their practices
  • Children benefit from care and education that will prepare them for school and life

Continue reading Policy Hour: Parent Aware Changes & Legislative Update

Legislative Wrap-Up: How did Early Learning Fare?

Minnesota legislators wrapped up the special session last week, and the Governor signed budget bills into law. Read about the new policies and programs that affect early learning throughout the state.

For more details about the provisions, check out the Child Care Aware of Minnesota Legislative Update. Continue to look for more specifics as the administration and departments work on the implementation process.

Education

EARLY LEARNING SCHOLARSHIPS  

  • Increase in funding of $20.6 million over the biennium for Pathway I
  • Adds homeless, foster and child protection to priority list and expands this priority list to serve age 0-5
  • Early learning scholarships can be used at one, two, three and four star Parent Aware-Rated sites until 2020. Starting in 2020, only three and four Star rated programs will be eligible.

Continue reading Legislative Wrap-Up: How did Early Learning Fare?