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: Rich Gehrman, Founder and Executive Director of Safe Passage for Children
Early childhood education and quality child care are among a handful of services that significantly reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect, and also lessen negative effects when it does occur.
That is why Safe Passage for Children and Think Small actively participated in the successful 2017 campaign by the MinneMinds Coalition to pass legislation giving top priority for early learning scholarships to children who are homeless, in child protection, or in foster care, and to open eligibility at birth rather than age three. As a result of this effort, $20.65 million was added to the state budget for the current biennium, bringing the total early childhood scholarship pool to $140.4 million.
While the increase itself was modest, the policy changes in this statute mean that our most vulnerable children can now get critical child development opportunities on a priority basis, and during the much earlier period when it can best promote healthy brain development.
Join us on the playground as we explore Policies in Play!
Think Small believes that placing a priority on children and their families through access to high quality early childhood education is critical to closing Minnesota’s opportunity gap, thus eliminating the state’s achievement gap. Policy decisions that are in the best interest of children are in the best interest of communities and thus Minnesota’s future economic development.
The 2017 legislative session included several key changes to early care and education, including:
Early Learning Scholarships Policy and Funding Changes
Child Care Assistance Program Changes
Department of Economic Development Child Care Grants
Office of the Legislative Auditor Report (February 2018)
The early childhood movement has come a long way in the past twenty years, and has a long way to go.
The public now understands the importance of early care and education both for a child’s educational success and to assure a future skilled, prosperous workforce. It now understands that public investment in quality early learning is a valid and important policy priority. A majority of people polled are even willing to pay higher taxes, if the taxes are used to improve early learning.
Quality early learning is vastly under-resourced; there is far too little money in the system to provide parents the choices they deserve or maintain the quality workforce our children need. As a result, far too many of our youngest children are being cheated, pure and simple.
It is great that early learning is a policy priority for the state, and it’s encouraging to hear it continue to be discussed. In a year of $1.6 billion surplus, it would also be great to see large investments in Minnesota’s youngest children.
Early Learning continues to be an important issue that Minnesota legislators are talking about. The House, Senate, and Governor have all proposed additional funds for early education, although they differ widely on how much to spend and in what way. Representatives and senators just finished their work to come up with joint budget bills. These still have to pass out of both bodies and be signed by the Governor to become law.
Two weeks before the end of the regular session, here’s an update on the status of Think Small’s policy priorities.
Increase the number of Parent Aware rated programs and allow programs to maintain or improve their Parent Aware ratings
The Education bill allows all Parent Aware rated program (1-4 Stars) to be eligible to accept Early Learning Scholarships until 2022. After 2022, Early Learning Scholarships will only be able to be used by families at 3 and 4 star Parent Aware rated programs. This could encourage more providers to earn a new rating or improve their current rating. The Department of Human Services will continue to fund statewide implementation of Parent Aware. Continue reading A Legislative Update: Early Learning a Policy Priority for State
Jim Koppel, Assistant Commissioner for Children and Family Services for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, spoke to Policy Hour attendees on March 7th. He talked about the child care landscape generally in addition to providing updates on the status of some legislation this session.
Early Education Spotlight is an ongoing series that showcases great work happening in 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.
Little Learners in Ada, Minnesota, is set up to be unique. Located in the same building as Benedictine Living Community, which offers independent and assisted living options for adults, the early learning program finds many opportunities to partner with the “Grandmas and Grandpas.” Continue reading Early Education Spotlight: Little Learners
Macy started her child care program at age two, with no previous early learning experience. Since then, she’s blossomed. She is now the star student of her program and completely ready for kindergarten. An Early Learning Scholarship allowed her to start the program at a young age, since she lives in a Transformation Zone in Minnesota. Her family’s daily life would be completely different without it. It’s allowed her mother to work and go back to school, two things that would not be possible without the scholarship. Watch how her scholarships, combined with a high-quality program, have made all the difference for Macy.
We must close gaps first by supporting early learning programs already in place to reach our most at risk children. Child Care is an essential and large piece of this puzzle, providing quality early learning opportunities across Minnesota that focus on getting the whole child ready to succeed.