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

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: The Teddy Bear 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)

Early educator Darcy Barry plays with the children in her large backyard.

Darcy Barry discovered her passion for teaching young children early on, and she’s still going strong. A child care provider in Moorhead, Minnesota, for 23 years, Darcy’s impact reaches throughout the community.

Darcy’s program, Teddy Bear House, is Four Star Parent Aware rated. She’s always been passionate about educating children, and earning the rating lets others know that. She teaches the children important skills such as reading, art, and music. And she combines that teaching with a large helping of nurturing and warmth.

“Every day is different.  Every day is fun.  It’s all about the kids and the families.”

The Four Star rating qualifies her to receive Early Learning Scholarships, which was one of the main motivations for her to earn it. Early Learning Scholarships help parents pay for high-quality care. More than half of her children receive scholarships.

“The main reason I wanted to do the scholarships was for the families so they could come to daycare and not have to worry about the financial part because it’s a burden,” said Darcy.

The parents of the children in her program go to school or work full time, so access to consistent, quality care is essential.

Continue reading Early Education Spotlight: The Teddy Bear House

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

Think Small Offers Free Information Sessions for Parent Aware Participation

Child care provider Brenda Arzac Ramirez reads to the children attending her four star Parent Aware rated program in Minneapolis.

By Susan Schaffhausen

In 2017, Think Small undertook new efforts to increase the number of child care providers who devote their care to ensuring children’s health, safety, and best practices for early learning through participation in Parent Aware.  Parent Aware is the statewide Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) for Minnesota. Parent Aware participation and quality ratings are focused on getting children ready to succeed in school and bring significant benefits to licensed care providers, both family and center-based.   Parent Aware is the opportunity for providers to go beyond basic care certification and strengthen their commitment to excellence.

Think Small was responding specifically to a steady decline in the number of family child care programs in Minneapolis and St. Paul (15% from 2014 to 2017) and the smallest number of providers entering Parent Aware in the history of the program. This was a concerning trend as the metro area has a significant number of family child care providers of color and new immigrant providers, who often serve populations with limited resources and opportunities.  Parent Aware participation makes a valuable range of free and low-cost resources available to support providers, including coaching and trainings from early childhood professionals, professional development support, funding support for quality improvements, and access to higher child care assistance rates and early learning scholarships.

Watch this video Think Small produced highlighting the benefits of participating in Parent Aware.

Continue reading Think Small Offers Free Information Sessions for Parent Aware Participation

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.”

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.