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

Attend a Precinct Caucus and Submit a Resolution to Support Early Learning

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

On Tuesday, February 6 at 7:00 p.m., Minnesota will hold precinct caucuses around the state. They are the beginning of a process that Minnesota’s major political parties use for choosing the candidates and the issues they will support in elections. You can find out where your caucus is by using the Secretary of State’s Caucus Finder.

Attending your party’s precinct caucus provides you with an opportunity to advance an issue that matters to you, support the candidates of your choice, and build your involvement in the political process. You can learn more about what to expect by visiting the Secretary of State’s website about precinct caucuses.

Beyond voting for the candidate of your choice, another way to participate in the caucus is by submitting a resolution. Resolutions are position statements that can be adopted at the precinct level and advanced to become party positions.

What does a resolution look like?

A resolution is usually a one-page document that outlines:

  • The problem or opportunity
  • A rationale for a position for the issue
  • A policy statement about what should be done about the issue 

How do I present my resolution?

  • There is time for resolutions on the agenda
  • Resolutions must be presented in writing
  • Present your proposal and the reasons for it. Be persuasive! (It helps to lobby early and have copies).
  • If there is disagreement, the caucus chair will facilitate debate (often 3 statements for and 3 against).

VOTE!

Use this sample resolution at your caucus to support early learning:

Whereas, Minnesota has some of the worst opportunity and achievement gaps in the nation; and

Whereas, improving the early learning landscape across Minnesota improves the lives of children and the future of our state; and

Whereas, children start learning at birth;

Therefore, be it resolved that the _________ Party supports:

  • increasing access for the most vulnerable children to attend high-quality early care and education programs by expanding Early Learning Scholarships,
  • continued support of Parent Aware- Minnesota’s quality rating system for early learning programs, and
  • eliminating the wait list for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) so all children from low-income families can access quality early learning programs starting at birth.

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 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.”