By Sondra Samuels and Barb Fabre | 01/30/17
There is strong bipartisan agreement about the need to help young Minnesota children living in low-income families access high-quality early-education programs so that we can close our worst-in-the-nation opportunity gap in education. While there is an amazing amount of consensus about that overall need, policymakers are still discussing the type of help that is needed.
So here’s a radical idea: How about we listen to the people who can benefit the most from getting engaged in early education: low-income parents?
In the fall of 2016, Wilder Foundation researchers did exactly that. Using funding from the nonprofit organization Close Gaps by 5, Wilder conducted phone interviews of 240 low-income parents from all parts of Minnesota. About 46 percent of those interviewed were parents of color. Here is what those parents said.
Parents’ top priorities
When asked “which early education program features sticks in your mind as the single most important for you and your family?” two items rose to the top. The first most important feature parents named was full-day, full-year, multi-year services. The second was quality of care, in terms of a program’s ability to prepare children for kindergarten.
This is encouraging news, because the same features that parents want are, according to the best available research, also the things that children need to get ready for kindergarten.
Fortunately, Minnesota’s 9-year-old Early Learning Scholarship program delivers on both fronts
Yesterday, Governor Dayton released his supplemental budget that included early childhood development as a top priority. MinneMinds applauds the Governor’s continued leadership on behalf of Minnesota’s children. We agree with the governor that: “In addition to our moral responsibility to ensure that every child receives a world-class education, there is another important reason to make these additional investments. Because our future depends upon them.”
In particular we are very encouraged to see that increased investments in home visiting and the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) are in his budget. As mentioned in the Governor’s report, home visiting helps families of at-risk children develop the skills needed to care for their child. Additionally, by increasing CCAP reimbursement rates, our most at-risk families will have increased access to early care and education options. We are also pleased that Governor Dayton expanded that use of scholarships to children aged 0-5, which has been a long-standing goal of our coalition. But we would take the step further and expand the dollars available as well, so that more children can receive the flexible funding that will help them succeed.
We believe this budget is a positive step towards putting our most at-risk children first; MinneMinds is committed to working together with the Governor on advancing these key priorities.
MinneMinds is a broad, statewide coalition, operating on the common goals we share of equitable access to high quality, mixed delivery, accessible and culturally competent early childhood care and education. The needs of Minnesota’s children should be met from pre-natal to age 5 with multi-generational solutions. Home visits, high quality child care and early education provide a pathway to racial, economic and geographic equity. Our coalition supports legislation that fully funds Parent Aware, Minnesota’s quality-rating improvement system, and expands Early Learning Scholarships for children from 0-4. With more than 40,000 children from birth to five still unable to access high quality early childhood development programs, we most move urgently to support children that need our help the most.
Much has been said and written lately about a rural-urban divide in America. It’s increasingly apparent that sound public policy has to help families in communities of every description—urban, suburban, exurban, and rural. Minnesota’s Early Learning Scholarships is exactly that kind of policy.
Scholarships address an urgent problem that schools and communities are facing in every corner of the state. Nearly half of Minnesota’s children are arriving in kindergarten unprepared. Too many kids never catch up and eventually drop out of school. Dropouts earn less and generate higher taxpayer costs throughout their lifetime. That’s a huge problem for all of us. Minnesota needs an educated workforce to compete in the global economy. An educated workforce makes for healthy, prosperous communities.
High quality early childcare and early education is the way to get kids ready to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. But for too many Minnesota kids, these programs are out of reach. Tragically, about 40,000 low-income Minnesota children under five years old are unable to access the quality early learning programs they need to get prepared for school and life.
These at-risk children are in every community in Minnesota. About half of sholarship-eligible low-income children are in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area, and half are in greater Minnesota.
But how can one policy solution work as well in Minneapolis, Mankato and Motley? After all, some Minnesota communities have many different choices available for childcare and early learning programs, and others have few to choose from.
Gov. Mark Dayton has spent much of his six years in office building a legacy largely focused on increasing the funding and reach of the public school system, especially for the state’s youngest learners.
To cement that legacy, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor has to work his last two years in office with a House and Senate led by Republicans who often have different ideas on what is best for Minnesota’s public schools. Many of those ideas about education spending and policy have sparked past battles between Dayton and GOP lawmakers.
Among issues on the table this legislative session are which teachers get laid off when budgets get cut, how to license educators, how to keep schools accountable for the progress of their students, and school choice.
Legislators and the governor also need to agree on a budget in which education spending is one of the largest pieces. In the current two-year budget, $17 billion will be spent on education, about 41 percent of the total.
Republicans say they largely agree with Dayton and Democrats’ main objective of closing the state’s persistent achievement gap between students of color and their peers, but they often disagree on the best ways to make progress.
“I anticipate we will focus on what is best for students and what works,” said Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, who will chair the education division of the Senate Finance Committee. She acknowledged that closing academic gaps will be a top priority. “We’ve been talking about it for years; it’s time to do something about it.”
One of the most stressful questions a new parent confronts is, “Who’s going to take care of my baby when I go back to work?”
Figuring out the answer to that question is often not easy. When NPR, along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, surveyed more than 1,000 parents nationwide about their child care experiences, a third reported difficulty finding care.
Searching far and wide, finding little
Megan Carpenter, a new mother who lives in Alexandria, Va., knows well the feeling of desperation that can come with the search for safe, quality infant care.
She had a hard deadline — 16 weeks after her baby was born her maternity leave would end and she would have to return to her job at a nonprofit that serves homeless and low-income women. So she and her husband started looking for child care early, only a few months into her pregnancy.
“At our first few interviews we were asking a lot of questions and were really trying to get a feel for the place,” Carpenter recalls. “And by place 10 or 11, our only question was, ‘Do you have a spot?’ ”
The answer to that question, time and again, was “no.” That meant getting on a lot of waitlists — and paying a hefty, nonrefundable waitlist fee each time.
“There were a lot of places that were totally willing to take our $100 or $200 waitlist fee,” Carpenter says. “We spent over $1,000 in waitlist fees — many of which I never heard from again.”
By the time baby Cora arrived, the couple still had no prospects.
While research confirms the value of early- childhood advocates’ efforts, a hometown lawmaker observed that their work wasn’t necessarily in sync.
When he arrived at the Minnesota Capitol after his election in 2014, Rep. Dave Pinto — long interested in the issue — expected to find clarity about an agenda and direction, based on growing consensus about the value of public investment in early education.
Instead, there were a number of agendas, the St. Paul Democrat told us.
He found that, with varied groups working on such efforts, “often they’re parallel, often they overlap, sometimes they may conflict.”
That makes it hard for legislators, who might agree in general on the matter, Pinto told us, to “cut through the clutter” and figure out “where do we go, where do we focus our efforts, what do we do?”
In an effort that uses what he describes as a lawmaker’s leverage to “convene,” Pinto helped bring them together via a quarterly Prenatal-to-Three Policy Forum series that began last summer. The next such session will be Jan. 6 at the University of St. Thomas.
If you got 13 percent back on your investments every year, you’d be pretty happy, right? Remember, the S&P 500, historically, has averaged about 7 percent when adjusted for inflation.
What if the investment is in children, and the return on investment not only makes economic sense but results in richer, fuller, healthier lives for the entire family?
That’s the crux of a new paper out Monday, The Life-Cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program, co-authored by Nobel laureate James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and the director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development.
But there’s surprisingly little research on its impact over time. This paper helps change that. Heckman and his co-authors examine the many ways in which these high-quality programs helped participants thrive throughout life.
Claudio Sanchez · NPR ·
One of the most controversial questions in education has been whether preschool — and specifically Head Start — helps kids succeed as they move through elementary school.
Critics have long noted, and research has supported, that the benefits of Head Start fade in a few years. It’s an important question for an $8 billion federal program that provides support for nearly a million low-income children and their families.
This year brought several new studies, however, that found that — when done right — Head Start and other programs can give low-income students lasting benefits. It’s not only through elementary school: At least one study we wrote about found the benefits of preschool paying off for individuals, and society, into adult life.
All this research, however, was no blanket endorsement. Some of this year’s findings reinforced earlier studies showing the uneven quality of Head Start programs around the country.
And so the lessons from 2016 seem to reinforce the emphasis — by President Obama and others — on quality.
One of the most closely watched attempts in the country to provide universal, high-quality preschool has been in Oklahoma. In 1998, the state became one of only two states to offer universal preschool.
Today, the vast majority of Oklahoma’s programs are in public schools. The rest are run by child care centers or Head Start.
Editorial Board, Star Tribune
January, 22, 2016
Minnesota child care tends to be good — and expensive. That means that high-quality child care and preschool are also in short supply, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and sparsely populated portions of the state.
In previous years, recognition that those circumstances spell trouble for the state’s economy as well as for families and children has been spotty at the Legislature. Fortunately, that’s changing. Last week, House Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt appointed a “select committee on affordable child care” and announced that it would conduct statewide hearings in February to probe the problem and consider remedies. It’s to be headed by a former child care provider, Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria.
We’ll take that as reason for hope that a better day may be dawning for Minnesotans burdened by child care costs that often exceed the cost of public college tuition — and that bipartisan cooperation might help make it so.
Last session, Republicans and DFLers came together on a strategy to both offer more need-based scholarships for high-quality preschool and enable more school districts to become preschool providers. This should be the year when a similar coalition emerges to address the everyday, full-day needs of the young children of working parents…
Lori Sturdevant, Star Tribune
January 22, 2016
“I really hope they put some additional money into early education,” Bruininks said. “They’ve simply got to keep investing in the early years.”
Bruininks’ zeal for the topic is good news. He could be just the thing the early ed rivals of 2015 need to become early ed allies in 2016 — a sage, nonpartisan policy broker with decades of educational expertise to bring to bear. When he’s back in the cold in a few weeks, he could be an important advocate for early education policies that help Minnesota continue to be the Brainpower State as its population evolves.
Before he was president of the University of Minnesota, Bruininks was a university professor of educational psychology and dean of the College of Education and Human Development. While he was president from 2002 to 2011, he trucked and tangled with governors and legislators and gained appreciation for their power to shape this state.
That background made Bruininks a keen observer of one of the big tussles of the 2015 legislative session. This one wasn’t DFL vs. Republican or metro vs. rural. It was preschool scholarships for needy children vs. school-based preschool for every 4-year-old in the state…
Britta Arendt, Grand Rapids Herald-Review
September 9, 2015
Of the more than 847,000 students heading back to school across Minnesota this fall, approximately 58,800 are kindergartners – 99.6 percent of whom are attending school all-day, free of charge.
Before implementation of state legislation passed in 2014, 54 percent of Minnesota children had access to all-day kindergarten, according to information released by the Minnesota Department of Education.
Hank Long, Waseca County News
February 24, 2015
A bill that would give school districts the opportunity to offer all-day preschool to 4-year-olds stalled Tuesday in the House Education Innovation Policy Committee.
Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) began her push for universal, voluntary pre-kindergarten in the public schools during the 2014 legislative session, saying Minnesotans are frustrated with the Legislature’s delay in fully investing in early learning opportunities for all children. This year, the proposal came forth in the form of HF46.
It would allow eligibility for children who are 4 years old on Sept. 1 and not enrolled in kindergarten to participate in a universal, all-day preschool program run by public schools.
After several hours of testimony on the bill, including an initial hearing last week, the committee voted 11-8 along party lines to reject the bill.
A companion, SF6, sponsored by Sen. John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin), was tabled Jan. 21 by the Senate E-12 Budget Division.
Committee Chair Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) reminded Murphy and committee members that HF844 – which contains Gov. Mark Dayton’s K-12 education budget proposal in bill form – includes a version of universal, voluntary preschool similar to Murphy’s bill and that it will receive continued discussion in the coming weeks…
Heidi Enninga, WDIO – Duluth
February 24, 2015
When parents drop kids off at daycare each morning they expect their little ones will be in a safe and fun environment, but local providers and early childhood experts now say expectations about daycare are changing in order to make sure kids start kindergarten on par with their peers.
Daycare providers are the people you entrust to make sure your children not only have enough to eat, but the right things to eat, and that they have lots of time to play and stretch their minds.
It’s all because children under five are already on their education journey even though they’re spending their days in daycare and not yet a classroom. Even these early years before kindergarten are some of the most critical for learning.
Lynn Haglin, Kids Plus Director with the Northland Foundation said research has changed the line of thinking about early childhood.
“We now know so much about early brain development,” Haglin said.
In fact, by the time your child reaches kindergarten age, 90 percent of brain development is already complete.
“People are becoming more and more aware, from even prior to birth, that learning is taking place.”
So some Northland providers are trying to do even more for their kids. April Hall runs Aunty’s Daycare in West Duluth. Already she tries to expose the children at her daycare to nutrition and health information.
“My daycare kids can tell you what vitamins are in a lemon, what part of your body it’s good for. that avocados are good for your brain,” Hall said.
These providers are going beyond the minimum health and safety standards required for daycare licensing.
Mary Young has been a daycare provider in Carlton for 32 years and said there’s pressure from schools.
“The schools want us to get children ready, and that’s talked about more and more,” Young said.
The Northland Foundation said that in 2003, just 50 percent of children entered kindergarten fully prepared. That number has increased over the years. Now, the Minnesota Department of Education reports school readiness is at 70 percent. That’s thanks in part to a big push on healthy development in children birth to age five.
This month, nearly 370 childcare providers got training in Duluth from a program called Parent Aware Pathways. It teaches those caring for kids how to capitalize on the window of opportunity in early childhood.
February 19, 2015
For the third year in a row, Minnesota lags the rest of the country in on-time graduation for students of color.
Fewer than 60 percent of the state’s black and Hispanic students graduate in four years, according to an MPR News analysis of the most recent federal data on state graduation rates, from the 2012-13 school year. The rate for the state’s Native American students is the second worst in the nation at 49 percent.
Minnesota has the worst or second-worst graduation rates among reporting states in all four non-white student categories. No other state is in the bottom five in all four groups, and only Oregon comes close with three races in the bottom five.