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Head Start has been integral to Minnesota’s early learning system since 1988 when state funding was first allocated to expand service to Minnesota children growing up in poverty. Independent studies of our Minnesota Head Start programs clearly demonstrate that Head Start’s comprehensive, family-centered approach offers high-quality early learning experiences that boost school readiness outcomes for participating low-income children.
Investing in Head Start’s comprehensive, high-quality, early learning model yields a solid return. By laying the foundation for a positive academic, social, and emotional experience in Kindergarten, Head Start is setting the course for Minnesota’s most vulnerable children to embrace an equally positive, productive, and engaging lifetime of learning.
However, to provide income-eligible families access to Head Start we must invest in the critical infrastructure necessary to develop a diverse and well-trained workforce and to provide quality facilities designed for children birth to 5. This must be done through sustained and increasing funding.
MHSA is committed to actively participating in all state and federal level discussions around early education and care. MHSA will also work to ensure discussions involving the Federal Head Start Performance Standards include an understanding of what EHS/HS considers best practice, range of services, and accountability.
By laying the foundation for a positive academic, social and emotional experience in Kindergarten, Head Start is setting the course for Minnesota’s most vulnerable children to embrace an equally positive, productive and engaging lifetime of learning.
In addition, we advocate the following Guiding Principles as minimal requirements for new and improving public policies in early childhood.
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 13,000 children (0-5), but this is only about one-quarter of income-eligible children.
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.
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.
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.
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 state funding limits Early Head Start to only about 3,000 Minnesota children.
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.
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.
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: