Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper visited early education centers in Duluth and Virginia today to highlight budget proposals that provide the building blocks young Minnesotans need so they can start school ready to learn. Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius joined her in Virginia to emphasize the importance of early education.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget recommends an increase of $73.5 million to improve the Child Care Assistance Program by increasing rates paid to providers, offering more flexibility for families, and enhancing safety and school-readiness. The governor’s capital budget also recommends $15 million to expand the Early Childhood Facilities grant program, which increases access to high quality programs by partnering with local entities to renovate or construct new early learning facilities.
“Families across Minnesota need better access to quality early childhood programs. Without consistent, stable child care, children often struggle and are not prepared to enter kindergarten, and parents often are unable to go to school or work,” said Piper.
Child Care Assistance Program budget proposal
Piper started her day at Happy Time Day Care Center, a high quality child care provider in Duluth that serves families with low incomes enrolled in the state’s Child Care Assistance Program.
Nancy Thomas, director of Happy Time, said hiring child care workers can be challenging due to low wages and benefits in the profession. "We're fortunate to have great staff that are dedicated to providing a fun, safe educational environments for kids, but I know it can be really hard for us and fellow providers to make ends meet and also for families to find good care that they can afford," said Thomas, who has been running the Parent Aware 4-Star rated program for 31 years.
Across the state, the number of providers are declining – there were 12,449 licensed child care providers in 2012 and 10,599 in 2016 – making it difficult for families, particularly in greater Minnesota, to find care.
“Supporting children and their struggling families is critical to ensuring the vitality of local communities and our state,” said Piper. “We need to improve thousands of children’s access to stable, predictable, high quality early childhood resources to better prepare them for school.”
Gov. Dayton’s $73.5 million proposal would benefit 16,000 Minnesota families with 30,000 children enrolled in the program, and many of the 4,100 Minnesota child care providers who serve them, by increasing reimbursement rates for most of the providers. The higher rates better reflect the current market rates, as well as help providers stay in business and improve the quality of their programs, and help parents find affordable, quality child care.
Under the proposal, maximum reimbursement rates would increase for most child care providers participating in the assistance program. In greater Minnesota, weekly rates would increase between an estimated 6.5 percent for licensed family child care providers to 12 percent for licensed child care centers, and in the Twin Cities metropolitan area between 5.5 percent for licensed family child care providers to 8.5 percent for licensed child care centers.
The proposal would also give families more stability by increasing program eligibility to a full year and providing flexibility to match work schedules. It includes health, safety and licensing changes required to meet new federal requirements as well.
Early Learning Facilities bonding proposal
From Duluth, Piper traveled to Virginia Public Schools’ Parkview Learning Center, which received a $650,000 grant from the department in 2014 to construct an early education wing in partnership with Arrowhead Head Start. The eight new classrooms, which opened this fall, allow families in the area to attend all-day preschool in a safe environment free of charge up to four days per week.
The school district and community members began meeting a decade ago to develop an early childhood plan for Virginia. At the time, Head Start and district school readiness programs were located in different buildings because there was not enough classroom space at Parkview to house both programs.
“Our goal was to ensure all children were ready for kindergarten,” said Mike Krebsbach, principal at Parkview Learning Center. “Thanks to the early learning bond funding we received, we were able to build these new classrooms to make our long-standing project a reality.”
Demand for early education space is rising as more families with low incomes seek early childhood programs through the Minnesota Early Learning Scholarships Program and child care subsidies tied to high quality programs through Parent Aware.
“Improved learning environments not only help promote better educational and developmental outcomes for children, particularly children who are at highest risk of being unprepared for kindergarten,” said Piper, “but they also create jobs.”
The $15 million in bond funding would be awarded to facilities owned by the state or political subdivision, such as a school district or city, via a competitive process and must be matched with local dollars. Since 1992, more than 70 projects across Minnesota have been completed with Early Childhood Facilities grants.