Coalition seeks $150 million more for Minnesota early-childhood education
Megan Boldt, Pioneer Press, December 4, 2012 – Advocates for Minnesota’s earliest learners want the state to invest an additional $150 million a year to give the neediest children access to high-quality child care and preschool programs.
Researchers and economists agree that when it comes to return on investment, early-childhood education gives taxpayers the biggest bang for their buck. And MinneMinds, a coalition of business leaders and community foundations, is hoping interest will gain steam again with Democrats in control of the Legislature and the governor’s office. The group’s proposal would help prepare an additional 20,000 low-income 3- and 4-year-olds for school by giving their families about $6,000 a child to send them to qualified programs of their choice.
“The goal is simple. Increase access to ensure that all children are ready to succeed in school and in life,” Ann Mulholland, vice president of grants and programs for Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, said during a briefing with advocates Tuesday, Dec. 4.
Advocates want to expand on efforts to improve access and accountability for early childhood programs. Last year, Minnesota was awarded up to $45 million in federal dollars to do just that. Some will go toward scholarships for needy families. The rest will be spent on professional development for early-childhood workers and expanding accountability programs like Parent Aware, which evaluates and rates child care centers, preschools and home sites.
This year, about 850 children have access to such scholarships with the help of state and federal money. That number will rise to an estimated 1,170 next year. Families can receive up to $4,000 per eligible child.
Studies have found those enrolled as children in effective programs with parental-education components had higher graduation rates, were more likely to have health insurance and were less likely to have criminal records when compared with adults with similar backgrounds.
The Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank estimates that every $1 invested today in early-childhood education saves taxpayers $16 in the future.
Minnesota’s new political climate may look encouraging for early learning advocates, said Christina Wessel, deputy director of the Minnesota Budget Project. But she warned there’s pent-up demand from social service groups that have seen funding cut the past several years as Minnesota struggled with budget shortfalls.
Advocates are pushing for an incremental approach to raising early-education spending, phasing it in over a six-year period. Their proposal would start with a $78.4 million increase in 2014 to provide to provide approximately 13,640 children with scholarships.
Barbara Milon, executive director of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, said Minnesota currently spends $354 million on early childhood, or about 2.3 percent of the budget.