MHSA Public Policy Vision
This policy summary comes from a more detailed paper that describes the Association's Vision for Early Care and Education (pdf).
OUR VISION FOR EARLY EDUCATION AND CARE
The Minnesota Head Start Association applauds the public focus on investing in early childhood education and care as wise public policy. As practitioners who have worked with Minnesota's lowest income children and their families for more than forty years, our experience strengthens our resolve and belief in an underlying philosophy --- Every young child has enormous potential to blossom and develop, and their early learning is essential to their later successes.
Given the proven long-term results of high quality early learning opportunities and the financial realities of their costs, we urge policy makers: Invest first in the children with the most to gain, and ensure the investments are sufficient to pay for the quality that will actually produce the necessary impact.
We advocate the following Guiding Principles as minimal requirements for new public policies in the early childhood arena.
More High Quality Opportunities for More Low-Income Children.
High quality education and care must be available to every one of the more than 50,000 Minnesota children under the age of five who live in poverty. Head Start currently is funded to serve about 14,424 children (0-5), but this is only about one-quarter of income- eligible children.
Most early childhood initiatives focus on preschool age children (ages 3-5), but this focus can come at the expense of investments in younger children (ages 0-3). Targeting at-risk preschool-age children may be too late for too many. Current funding limits Early Head Start to only about 1,400 Minnesota children.
Address the Needs of the Whole Child and Family
Young children will not be prepared to master pre-academic or socio-emotional skills if their teeth hurt, if they are hungry, or if they are regularly absent because of unstable housing. Policies aiming at-risk children's school readiness must ensure the whole families' basic needs are met.
Reflective Diversity in Staff
High quality care means highly qualified educators and caregivers, trained specifically in early childhood development. High quality early learning opportunities must deliberately recruit staff from communities of color and provide resources for early childhood training and education. Moreover, funding per child must be high enough to enable early learning programs to offer competitive pay and benefits.
Mixed Delivery System Based on Community Needs
Early education and care in Minnesota is currently delivered via a set of arrangements that vary greatly in quality and availability. Rather than advocating replacement, we encourage coordination of existing early childhood education and care in Minnesota. To remain efficient, this coordination must be at the local level. Different regions of the state have different needs, and policies must recognize that what works in Minneapolis will not necessarily work in Roseau.
Standards for Excellence
High quality requires standards for achieving excellence, as standards enable early learning providers to use common, measurable definitions to set goals and assess progress. Standards must be based on outcomes proven to influence children's later success, and programs must be held accountable to these standards.
Head Start strongly supports family members as children's primary educators. Policies must ensure early learning opportunities empower parents and encourage leadership through opportunities for parents to attend educational workshops, volunteer in classrooms, and engage in program management.
Public Will for Committed Funding Must Be Built
We now need to recognize that these public investments must be made even earlier in the lives of our most at-risk children. This requires:
- A commitment to high quality and its real costs,
- Sustained investments, and
- Designing policies and systems that meet the Guiding Principles.