Early Learning Scholarships

Rallying for Minnesota’s Children – Advocacy for Children Day 2017

Rallying for Minnesota’s Children – Advocacy for Children Day 2017 960 638 Ivy Marsnik

Advocacy for Children Day celebrates early learning and gives parents, teachers, early care and education professionals, and communities from across the state an opportunity to stand up and be a voice for children. Led by the MinneMinds coalition, which Way to Grow is actively involved in, our staff and several families we serve are gathering at the capitol in support of equitable, child-centered, parent-directed, mixed delivery approaches to state policies affecting families and children. The 2017 policy agenda MinneMinds leads includes:

Ensuring Quality Care Through Parent Aware
  • Fully fund Parent Aware to continue the expansion of high‐quality early learning programs throughout Minnesota.
  • Support existing rated providers and grow from 3,000 programs to 4,400.
  • Ongoing support for rated providers and implementation of improvement strategies, with a priority on stronger recognition and incorporation of cultural competency.
Increasing Access to Quality Early Learning Through Scholarships
  • Increase funding and access of State Early Learning Scholarships for in need children birth‐to five to attend high quality early childhood development programs (Prioritize children with highest needs, including those facing homelessness and in foster care).
  • Complete efforts to fully‐fund scholarships for low‐income 3‐ and 4‐year‐olds to serve 7,000 new, at risk preschoolers.
  • Add funding for high priority groups for 0 to 2‐year‐olds (siblings, homeless, foster care, child protection) to serve 3,400 new, at risk babies and toddlers.
Assisting More Families In Need Through Home Visiting Programs
  • Increase access and funding for targeted home visiting programs to include 7,000 children in high poverty.
  • Provide community‐led solutions to high‐risk families to help stabilize them and give them a strong start.

What You Can Do

Attend the Rally

Join over 500 fellow early learning advocates as we fill the rotunda at the Minnesota State Capitol on Thursday, March 2, 2017. Activities for children begin at 9 am with the rally beginning at 9:30 am. From 11 am – 4 pm legislators will be available for visits.

Register Here

Submit a Letter and Children’s Art

Whether or not you are able to attend the rally, we encourage you to submit a letter to your senators and representatives and tell them why our state’s youngest learners matter to you. Greater Twin Cities United Way  will collect children’s artwork to accompany the letters submitted.

Mail your artwork to:
Lulete Mola
Greater Twin Cities United Way
404 S 8th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Download Letter Template

Meet with Legislators

Meeting with legislators can be easier than you think. Follow these simple steps:
1) Find out who your legislators are
2) Set up a time to meet
3) Identify your main message and a personal story supporting that message
4) Follow these tips for holding a successful meeting

Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!

Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come! 1200 798 Ivy Marsnik

Last fall, Waabomiimii began attending Way to Grow Preschool P.A.L.S. after her mom met Miriam, one of our Family Educators, at a recruitment event. At four years old, Waabomiimii did not know her ABCs or how to count, but over the last year she has grown tremendously. Making leaps and bounds, Waabomiimii now knows all letter sounds, is counting up to 20, and has passed the nationally recognized IGDI early literacy assessments indicating that she is ready for kindergarten!

Itzel, Waabomiimii’s mom, is very happy with Waabomiimii’s progress and has enjoyed watching her daughter grow. “In just one year,” Itzel tells us, “Waabomiimii has learned the alphabet, how to write numbers, and count. She has learned rhyming words and is now learning how to read!”

Combined with our preschool parent-child classes and home visiting program, Itzel’s engagement has been instrumental in Waabomiimii’s success. “Mom always works very hard between home visits,” Miriam says. “She has done a great job with Waabomiimii over the past year on everything from counting and reading, to following through on rules. When she gets home from work, she now sets aside time each night to practice learning with Waabomiimii.”

During home visits, Miriam continues to work with Waabomiimii and Itzel on reading. “Waabomiimii is working on continuing to build her sight-word recognition – a critical first-step in early literacy,” Miriam says. “When I visit, we do a lot of shared reading, a technique we commonly use in our curriculum.” Shared reading, a strategy where students and adults read aloud together, provides guidance and support to the child as they learn new words. “I usually start by reading a sentence, then engage mom by having her read next. Mom then reads while pausing on the sight-words Waabomiimii knows to allow her to read the sight-words aloud,” Miriam describes. “Now they like it so much that mom is reading with Waabomiimii 10-20 minutes each day! They also visit the library regularly so they can continue to enjoy new books together.”

This month, Waabomiimii walked across the stage at the Way to Grow Early Learner Graduation and in a few short weeks, she will begin her next journey as she starts kindergarten. Thanks to mom’s hard work, and the help of Miriam and the Way to Grow preschool teachers, we are happy to report she is ready to succeed!

Best in Class

Best in Class 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

April of 2013, then four-year-old Davion knew just two colors and the first letter of his name. Recognizing Davion was slightly behind, Tonia, Davion’s Family Educator got right to work. Tonia referred the family to Way to Grow Preschool Pals and began increasing home visits to get Davion caught up before he started school. After lots of hard work, Davion started kindergarten this fall recognizing all nine colors and counting up to 50 orally. He was also able to recognize all of his upper case letters except for “Q”. Davion recognized all lower case letters except “q” and “d” — because after all, Davion starts with a capital “D”!

Because of your support, Davion was able to enter kindergarten with the knowledge necessary to start off strong academically and socially. Now, he can spend more time enjoying the fun stuff. Davion’s favorite parts of kindergarten are story time and playing with toys. He also enjoys playing and talking with his best friend, Sammie.

Mom and Dad continue to be very supportive of their family and of each other. Their co-parenting skills have greatly improved and they are working more as a team advocating for the education of their children. Both parents attended fall conferences which went especially well. They were both very proud to hear that Davion is now ahead of his peers and is getting more challenging work during class time. Davion’s teacher has been helping him start to work on writing complete words and short sentences instead of simply practicing writing his ABCs.

Way to go, Davion!

What the Education Bill Promises the State’s Earliest Learners

What the Education Bill Promises the State’s Earliest Learners 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

After much debate, Governor Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature have passed the Education Bill with hopes of narrowing Minnesota’s achievement gap and ensuring all children receive the best education possible. The bill includes enacting free all-day Kindergarten, expanding access to early learning opportunities, and increasing funding for K-12 schools.

Though the final bill does not include universal pre-k, Governor Dayton and the Legislature agreed to invest an additional $100 million in early learning initiatives as well as an additional $48 million in early learning scholarships. The total funding for early learning scholarships for the FY 16-17 biennium is $104 million, nearly doubling to allow more children to access high quality early education and care.

The additional funding for early learning scholarships will provide an estimated 20,000 children four-years-old and younger the opportunity to attend high quality early learning programs. Furthermore, the Legislature will continue to invest in the Parent Aware initiative, which will allow the Quality Rating System to continue to add providers.

Art Rolnick, former economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and a current senior fellow at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, writes, “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.”

For more details on the Education Bill, check out the 2015 Budget for a Better Minnesota | A State of Educational Excellence Fact Sheet.

Invest in Us

Invest in Us 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

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.

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