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Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius were joined by local and statewide leaders this morning in Bemidji to discuss proposals in Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget that give every child in Minnesota an opportunity to succeed.
Currently, poverty, domestic abuse, substance abuse and other unsafe conditions put thousands of Minnesota children at risk of being knocked off the track of safe and healthy development before they have a chance to get started. Dayton’s budget includes proposals to increase access to quality child care, help more children find permanent homes, prevent child abuse and neglect, and assist parents, particularly teenage parents, complete their education and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
“Healthy children and families are the cornerstone of what makes Minnesota a great place to live,” said Jesson. “One of our top responsibilities at the Department of Human Services is to ensure that every child in Minnesota has an opportunity to succeed. The governor’s budget addresses the total needs of children, from safety at home to early education, to ensure that they are in the best position to get a good, strong start at life.”
Dayton’s proposed budget invests more than $140 million in early childhood development and learning in the 2014-2015 biennium.
For human services, this includes $22.9 million that will allow 7,500 additional children to attend quality child care so that they arrive prepared to learn in kindergarten; $2.6 million to create Northstar Care for Children, a streamlined state program to help more children in foster care find permanent homes; $4.5 million for the statewide expansion of the Parent Support Outreach Program, which will prevent neglect through early intervention services provided to an estimated 9,600 children; and $13.6 million to support strong employment outcomes for families who turn to the Minnesota Family Investment Program.
In the education budget, Dayton proposes significant investments in early childhood education and all-day kindergarten – $44 million to expand early education scholarships, providing 10,000 more students with access to high quality child care and preschool, and $40 million to help Minnesota school districts provide optional all-day kindergarten to students free of charge.
“Early learning plays a critical role in helping close the achievement gap and improve student outcomes,” said Cassellius. “We must ensure our youth have access to all the resources necessary for success. That includes ensuring they have safe and supportive environments at home and receive quality childcare before they enter kindergarten.”
Participants in the roundtable at Bemidji State University’s American Indian Resource Center included Alexandra Fitzsimmons, legislative affairs and advocacy director for Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota; Carmen Haugen, adoption program director for North Homes Children and Family Services; Susan Hoeft, principal in the Greenway School District and Governor’s Early Learning Council member; retired Rev. Bill Beyer, president of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf and Joint Religious Legislative Coalition member; and Dan Wenner, executive director of Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program.
“Too many children are growing up in environments that make them highly vulnerable to not being ready for school success. Poverty, neglect and the absence of consistent early childhood care and education opportunities can harm the healthy development of children, but the good news is these problems are solvable,” said Fitzsimmons. “We commend Gov. Dayton and the Departments of Human Services and Education for their leadership and commitment to giving every child the promise of a bright future, and we hope the Minnesota Legislature also continues to make children a top priority.”
More information on DHS’ “Safe and healthy development of children” initiative is available on 2013 session fact sheets webpage.