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.

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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

Early Learning Investment – Turn Up the Volume!

By Todd Otis

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.

Todd Otis

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.

At the very time when young families have the least amount of money, they are forced to pay $10-12,000 directly out of their pockets per child, and many families simply do not have that kind of money. Whereas at least 75% of K-12 education (public and private) is paid for by public sources and 25% by families, those numbers are reversed for early care and education. Most families simply cannot afford to pay for the quality early learning their kids deserve. Continue reading Early Learning Investment – Turn Up the Volume!

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?

A Legislative Update: Early Learning a Policy Priority for State

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

Prenatal to Three Policy Forums: Working Together for A Great Start

This month marks one year since the start of the Think Small blog. To celebrate, we’re using January to highlight information and initiatives from Think Small and our partners about infants and toddlers and their caregivers in Minnesota. This post is part of our series on children 0-3.

By: Representative Dave Pinto, District 64B

Representative Dave Pinto

Since the very beginning, my top priority as a legislator has been to make sure that every child in Minnesota gets off to a great start. The disparities that our state sees in education, economics, health, and the criminal justice system – some of the worst in the nation – are paralleled by disparities that begin with prenatal care and continue from birth and beyond.

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April Policy Hour Focuses on Compliance with Federal Requirements

MN Policy Hour March 2016The April edition of Minnesota’s Future Policy Hour featured leaders from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) discussing Minnesota’s response to the federal reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program. In order to comply with federal changes to the program, the state must make changes to current law.

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Parent Aware is the Backbone of Early Learning in Minnesota

PA Eval ImageMinnesota is grappling with a tough question: How do we best improve the early learning landscape in our state?

It’s important to note that this question presumes an acceptance of the importance of early learning opportunities. We are fortunate to be having this conversation, and it’s an enormous opportunity to make a difference for our state, economy, and future.

Continue reading Parent Aware is the Backbone of Early Learning in Minnesota

Think Small Announces 2016 Legislative Agenda

MN capitolThink Small is dedicated to continue improving the early learning landscape across Minnesota, impacting the lives of children and the future of our state and starting with the children who need our help the most.  Children from low-income families face the steepest obstacles to success. Nearly 50 percent of children in Minnesota begin kindergarten not fully prepared with the necessary skills to succeed in school. We know many of these children are from low-income families and often never catch up to their more well off peers.

Continue reading Think Small Announces 2016 Legislative Agenda