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Cradle to K Cabinet Releases Final Plan to Address Early Learning Disparities in Minneapolis

Cradle to K Cabinet Releases Final Plan to Address Early Learning Disparities in Minneapolis 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Mayor Hodges and the Cradle to K Cabinet released the final Cradle to K report outlining policy, legislative and collaborative recommendations for 2015 and beyond.

“As much as possible, these recommendations are based on research and the prevailing best practices in the field and in our community.  We want to focus on what works.”
-Mayor Betsy Hodges

The Cabinet, focused on eliminating disparities for children in the City of Minneapolis from prenatal to age three, released the draft report earlier this year.  “I want to thank the community for the serious and heartfelt response we received to the draft report.  I think you will find we took many comments to heart and incorporated your feedback into the final report,” says Mayor Betsy Hodges, “These recommendations are grounded in our three goals and have been labored on not just by our 28 Cabinet members but also by our subcommittees and additional community members.”

The Cabinet is recommending systems alignment, leveraging existing resources, and increased investments in children in the areas of targeted home visiting, housing for very-low income families, child care assistance and early learning scholarships, and service funding for our most vulnerable children such as homeless children and children with special needs.  “The Cabinet’s work is not done,” states Cabinet Co-Chair, Peggy Flanagan, calling Cradle to K a labor of love. “We are ready to get to work.”

Carolyn Smallwood, Cabinet Co-Chair and Executive Director of Way to Grow, adds that the Cabinet is now putting together its implementation plan.  Carolyn outlined a few of the things the Cabinet will be working on right away:

  • Improving the mental health services for children zero to three
  • Combining efforts with Generation Next and others to continue to increase early childhood screening efforts
  • Working on ways to increase the availability of housing for the most low-income families
  • Looking at ways to increase early learning scholarship opportunities for families in Minneapolis and
  • Trying to connect with family, friend and neighbor care providers who provide the majority of care to very young children.

Of these, Carolyn highlights, “It is critical for family, friend and neighbor care providers to have the correct information on getting kids ready for school.”  The Cabinet’s vision for the future, as told by Mayor Hodges, is for every parent and child to have the same access to resources beginning with prenatal care, continuing to empower parents to create a nurturing environment for their children, having stable housing that can provide a safe place to learn, and not having that access be determined or affected by income or race.

The Mayor has said Cradle to K is one of her main priorities this year.  The full report is available on the Mayor’s website.

Check out Way to Grow’s feature on KARE 11.

Mayor Hodges, Cradle to K Cabinet to Release Final Plan to Eliminate Disparities for Minneapolis Children

Mayor Hodges, Cradle to K Cabinet to Release Final Plan to Eliminate Disparities for Minneapolis Children 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

On Monday, May 18th at 1:30 p.m., Mayor Betsy Hodges and the Cradle to K Cabinet will release their final report which finalizes a plan to eliminate disparities for children in Minneapolis from birth to three years old. Prior to Monday’s release the Mayor and her cabinet met with over 200 community members in March and received considerable feedback over the internet to gather input on the recommendations and strategies for the final report.  The final report outlines policy, legislative and collaboration recommendations for 2015 and beyond.

The Cradle to K Cabinet is one of Mayor Hodges’ major initiatives, with a goal of eliminating disparities for children in the City of Minneapolis from birth to three years old. The Cabinet has been meeting since spring of 2014 and began accepting community feedback this past January. You can see a full list of cabinet members here.

WHAT:                 Mayor Hodges and Cradle to K Cabinet release final Cradle to K plan

WHEN:                Monday, May 18, 2015, 1:30-2:30 p.m.

WHO:                   Mayor Betsy Hodges, Co-Chair Cradle to K Cabinet Carolyn Smallwood,
Co-Chair Cradle to K Cabinet Peggy Flanagan, Members of the Cradle to K Cabinet

WHERE:             Way to Grow, 125 West Broadway, Suite 110, Minneapolis, MN 55411

RSVP:                   By 10:00 a.m., Monday morning, May 18, 2015 to:
Alexandra Fetissoff 673-3825

Prioritize Preparing Children in Deep Poverty to be Ready for Kindergarten

Prioritize Preparing Children in Deep Poverty to be Ready for Kindergarten 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

There has been considerable talk about early learning lately. We have heard for so long the alarming fact that Minnesota’s children in poverty are not prepared for kindergarten. It is encouraging to see the growing consensus about the end goal, even as the means are subject of spirited debate. We, as providers of early care and education serving some of the poorest children in our state, are now asking that you open your minds and hearts to hear our point of view.

There are 78,000 children ages 0-5 in Minnesota living in deep poverty. Deep poverty is defined as a family whose income is less than 50 percent of the federal poverty guideline. Children in every county and of every color live in deep poverty. However, children of color are disproportionately impacted by poverty, are uniformly at the highest risk of failing school, and are susceptible to repeating this cycle of poverty.

What does it mean to be a young child living in deep poverty in Minnesota? For preschoolers, this life comes with many challenges, starting with parents who likely also grew up in similar conditions and face, along with their children, their own daily challenges.

These children move frequently with their parents, living short term with friends or family or in shelters – a very unstable and chaotic life for young children who benefit so greatly from consistency and certainty. It is heartbreaking for us to have a child leave our preschools, knowing that the warm and healthy environment we provide during the day is not easily replaced under their family’s precarious circumstances. These children are being read to less often, have few or no books, and rarely enjoy the treasure of our parks.

Too often, these children have family situations that include mental illness and/or substance abuse, often leading to child neglect or violence. For them, the present is joyless and grim, and the future will almost certainly be tragic … UNLESS we collectively do something big and different NOW.

Provide flexible funding

What do these children need to set them on a better path? While no single solution exists, we propose one thing our state government can do this year: prioritize helping each one of these children to be ready for kindergarten. We believe that one of the smartest investments of state dollars is to provide flexible funding for early education and care that stays with each child until they turn 5 or enter kindergarten.

Flexibility will let funding follow each child so that when families move, they can maintain their opportunity to find a new early care and education provider, whether it be school-based, center-based or home-based. With fully flexible funding each child can get the amount of time they need to be successful. In contrast, funding based on arbitrary caps set by the state, or as a “reward” for parent’s working is a flawed system that places consequences on children for the performance of their parents.

We already have proof that flexibility funding for children works. The federal government provided $45 million over four years supporting comprehensive strategies and interventions in Minnesota, including two urban and two rural communities. Flexible scholarships were provided to hundreds of children in poverty. The results are profound in the White Earth, Northside Achievement Zone, St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, and Itasca communities.

Records of success

The Family Partnership, Way to Grow and Phyllis Wheatley Community Center combined have 252 years of serving children, youth and families, and the child development centers are four-star rated by Parent Aware, the highest rating possible in Minnesota, and have served over 16,380 children, youth and families in 2013.

Eighty-nine percent of the children graduating from preschool into kindergarten met school readiness standards and were cognitively, socially/emotionally, language/literacy and physically prepared for success in school.

When we do what is right for our children, we see the benefit it brings. We also know firsthand the damage that results when we don’t. Please find the way to get this right this year. We will help these children get ready for kindergarten and bring great promise into their lives.

Greenman, Smallwood, Milon

Molly Greenman is the CEO of the Family Partnership; Carolyn Smallwood is the CEO of Way to Grow; Barbara Milon is the executive director of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center.


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at

This article, written by Molly Greenman, Carolyn Smallwood, and Barbara Milon, originally appeared in MinnPost.

Why Gov. Dayton should continue supporting early learning scholarships

Why Gov. Dayton should continue supporting early learning scholarships 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Over the last four years, Gov. Mark Dayton has pioneered the use of flexible, empowering and portable scholarships to help low-income children access quality early education, as measured by the Parent Aware Ratings. His early learning scholarships allowed low-income families to take their scholarships to any quality provider, be they based in schools, homes, or centers, and even take the scholarship with them when the parents’ job or home changed.

This pilot-tested approach helped Minnesota win a highly competitive national grant for $45 million. It earned the support of the broad-based MinneMinds Coalition, the Minnesota Business Partnership, and a bipartisan group of legislators. It was even prominently featured in the governor’s re-election campaign ads.

Most important, the current approach successfully moved thousands of Minnesota kids into quality early learning settings in a cost effective manner, and incented hundreds of providers to prove and improve their quality. At long last, Minnesota has seen its rate of kindergarten-readiness begin to improve.

But for some reason, the Dayton administration is now proposing to take a much less effective and much more costly approach. Instead of targeting efforts on at-risk children, generating an extraordinary public return, the state would subsidize all children (families at all income levels), generating little return for a large portion of that investment.

And instead of continuing to provide an equal opportunity for all quality providers to serve children using state funding, the new proposal would earmark state funding for school-based programs only, to the exclusion of quality center-based and home-based programs.

(The proposal technically allows a school district to deem a non-school program(s) eligible if several extraneous new requirements are met. But even then, the school district is given total control of the funding, and it seems highly unlikely that many, or any, school districts would be willing to forfeit their earmarked funding.)

While the governor deserves applause for championing expanded access to quality early learning, I urge him to reconsider his support for the schools-only model for the following reasons:

1. Spending on the non-poor doesn’t focus on the achievement gap. The current scholarship-based approach targets limited state funding to low-income children, because they are the most likely to start kindergarten behind and fall into the K-12 achievement gap. Research I and others have conducted clearly shows that investing in helping low-income children access high-quality early education delivers by far the highest return-on-investment. The proposed new approach would fund all families, even wealthy families, which research shows is a relatively poor use of tax dollars. With many societal needs competing for limited tax dollars, low-income children should be helped first with scholarships and evidence-based home visiting beginning prenatally, before we fund pre-K for non-poor families. If Minnesota leaders are truly serious about the achievement gap, we need to help low-income kids first and fully.

2. Schools-only earmarking locks taxpayers into the most expensive approach. School-based programs absolutely should be one of the options available to parents. Currently, it is a popular choice, and it serves children well. But one factor we do need to keep in mind is that school-based programs are also a relatively expensive way of delivering early education. In 2011, the Rand Corporation did an analysis in Minnesota of the cost per child for every hour of 3- or 4-star Parent Aware rated early education. Rand found that school-based programs were the most expensive approach ($19.06 per hour), and were significantly more expensive than high-quality programs based in Head Start ($10.36 to $14.06), for-profit centers ($3.47 to $5.77 per hour), nonprofit centers ($9.21 to $11.94 per hour), and homes ($3.52 to $4.15 per hour). Again, school-based programs should continue to be one option available to parents, but it makes no sense to mandate that taxpayers fund only the most expensive method of delivering high quality early education.

3. Schools-only earmarking is fundamentally unfair to hundreds of Minnesota’s quality programs and the kids they serve. The governor’s schools-only proposal assumes that kindergarten-readiness best practices can only be delivered in school-based programs. But under the model the governor has used over the last four years, hundreds of centers and home-based programs have proven that they also can adopt the best practices. These providers were promised that if they adopted these best practices, they would have an equal opportunity to compete for the business of state-funded families. But the new model replaces the governor’s equal-opportunity model with a schools-only earmarking model, and that earmarking model is grossly unfair to hundreds of quality early education providers and the children they are serving.

4. Schools-only earmarking dramatically shrinks quality improvement incentive. Under the governor’s 2011-2015 approach, hundreds of child-care providers of all types and sizes have volunteered to adopt kindergarten-readiness best practices. Why? In part because doing so has earned them rewards, such as the business of the growing number of Minnesota families with state-funded early learning scholarships. Those scholarships are a powerful “carrot” to incent providers to adopt best practices. But once you take 4-year-olds out of the reward set, a major quality improvement incentive is removed. That almost certainly means that fewer providers will volunteer to adopt kindergarten-readiness best practices, and that is bad news for Minnesota’s 0- through 5-year-olds who need a robust supply of quality child care and early education options.

5. Schools-only earmarking is less flexible for parents and kids. Under the current approach that has been used the last four years, parents can choose the program that best fits their child and their life circumstances. But under the proposed new model, parents would be required to use a school-based program. Therefore, parents would no longer be able to shop around to find the program that is most sensitive to their culture, is near their home or job, and/or is using a teaching approach that particularly fits their child.

Dayton has had it right with his 2011-2015 models of early education scholarships, which is why it has earned broad support. He deserves a lot of credit for what he has done over the last four years. So if Minnesota’s current early education model isn’t broken, why try to “fix it” with a revised schools-only mandate that is much more costly and much less effective?

Art Rolnick is a former economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and a current senior fellow at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. He serves on several boards including the boards of Way to Grow and Parent Aware for School Readiness.

This article originally appeared in MinnPost and is republished with permission of the author.

Healthy Homes

Healthy Homes 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

2015 Children and Youth Issues Briefing Recap

2015 Children and Youth Issues Briefing Recap 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

This morning, nearly 1,000 influential advocates gathered at the 2015 Children & Youth Issues Briefing in Saint Paul.

The event kicked off with an address from Governor Mark Dayton who announced that his upcoming budget proposal (reviewed next Tuesday) will allocate $372 million to “children and education.”  Acknowledging that many Minnesota families have critical unmet needs, Gov. Dayton noted that often times, what 4-5 year olds have already endured is what is truly driving inequality.

Recognizing and emphasizing the holistic approach necessary to improve education outcomes, topics of discussion included:

  • Prenatal care and health education
  • Access to quality early education
  • Homelessness and socio-economic challenges
  • Stabilizing Minnesota families
  • Improving and ensuring the quality of our teachers
  • Increasing support for targeted home visiting
  • Equality in after-school programming
  • Affordability of higher education

Today is a day to be reminded that we all have the power to be the agents of change in our community.  The issues affecting the lives of our youth are not only being heard, but are being discussed and we invite you to join the conversation! Write, call, tweet or post to your legislator today and let them know that the issues above affecting Minnesota’s youngest citizens, matter to you!

Our Executive Director in Action

Our Executive Director in Action 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

The Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi (RKMC) Foundation for Children has announced the appointment of Carolyn Smallwood to its board of directors.

Carolyn Smallwood is entering her 10th year as executive director of Way to Grow, Inc., an early education and elementary organization that serves over 2,000 people each year. Prior to Way to Grow, she served as vice president for sales and marketing at Twin Cities RISE! She also served as the executive director of the Minnesota Minority Supplier Development Council.

Before entering the nonprofit field, Smallwood was the director of supplier diversity with ADC, The Broadband Company, and held a variety of senior positions with U.S. Bancorp.

She earned her BA degree in marketing and finance from the University of St. Thomas and completed Harvard’s Executive Programs for Nonprofits. Smallwood has a passion for work in diverse communities, a solid background in marketing, strong executive experience, an inclusive leadership style and a dynamic presence.

Smallwood currently sits on Governor Mark Dayton’s Early Learning Council and on the board of trustees for the College of Saint Benedict and the MacPhail Center for Music. Most recently, she was selected by Mayor Betsy Hodges to co-chair the Cradle to K Cabinet, designed to eliminate disparities for children from prenatal to three years old in the City of Minneapolis.

She also serves on the African American Leadership Forum, MinneMinds Advisory Committee, Promise Neighborhood Solution Action Group, and the FATHER Project Committee.

“Carolyn understands the critical importance of education in building a strong future for our children, and she has developed an array of skills in a career spent advocating for women and the underserved,” said Michael Ciresi, board chair of the RKMC Foundation for Children. “We’re honored to welcome her to the Foundation’s board.”

Information provided by the Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children. To learn more, visit

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Preschool Pals Teacher Lights the Way

Preschool Pals Teacher Lights the Way 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Those of us at Way to Grow have always seen Mr. Eka, our Preschool Pals lead teacher, as an excellent educator; but this week, the word is out!  As this week’s recipient of WCCO’s Excellent Educator Award, it is no secret that Mr. Eka radiates a very special light from within, a gift positively impacting his students’ lives day in and day out.  We are honored to have Mr. Eka on our team and could not be more excited to see all of his talents, hard work and dedication being recognized!  Thank you, Eka for all you do to ensure every child has an equal opportunity to succeed in school and life.

Take a step into Eka’s classroom and catch a glimpse of him in action by watching the video below!

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Mayor Hodges, Cradle to K Cabinet Announce Cabinet Will Issue Report with 2015 Recommendations

Mayor Hodges, Cradle to K Cabinet Announce Cabinet Will Issue Report with 2015 Recommendations 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

October 10, 2014 (MINNEAPOLIS) — Mayor Betsy Hodges announced Thursday that her Cradle to K Cabinet is working on a year-end report which will outline policy, legislative, and collaboration recommendations for 2015. The Cabinet has been meeting since spring, when Mayor Hodges convened the full first meeting of the cabinet.

“The members of my Cradle to K Cabinet have shown exceptional dedication to our goal of closing the achievement gap in the city’s education system by eliminating disparities for children from prenatal to three years old,” said Mayor Hodges. “The discussions, collaboration, and work happening at this table is focused on our opportunity to create equity with our kids – I’m heartened by the energy of the Cabinet. I feel confident our year-end report will be comprehensive and forward-thinking. I look forward to that report guiding the Cradle to K Cabinet’s work in 2015.”

Since the first meeting, the cabinet has identified three objectives members are focused on. The cabinet has organized members into committees, each one focused on a different objective.

“I’m pleased we’ve been able to focus in on three concrete goals,” said Carolyn Smallwood, Co-Chair of the Cradle to K Cabinet and Executive Director of Way to Grow. “Those goals are that all children receive a healthy start rich with early experience to prepare them for successful early education and literacy; all children will be stably housed; and all children will have continuous access to high quality child development programming.”

“Each committee is looking at potential policy or legislative recommendations for each of these objectives,” said Peggy Flanagan, Co-Chair of the Cradle to K Cabinet and Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota. “Some of those recommendations may be small changes at the city level, and some may require larger state legislation to achieve our goal. In January, we’ll begin working on those recommendations.”

The Cradle to K Cabinet will make its report public in early January. Flanagan and Smallwood joined Mayor Hodges Thursday at a media briefing to discuss the cabinet’s work. They were joined by: Gretchen Musicant, Chair of the Committee focused on Early Experiences; Mikkel Beckmen, Chair of the Committee focused on Stable Housing; Aaron Sojourner, member of the Committee focused on Continuous Access; and Richelle Hart-Peeler, a parent representative on the cabinet.

Way to Grow Celebrates Historic Milestone

Way to Grow Celebrates Historic Milestone 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

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