OUR VISION FOR EARLY EDUCATION AND CARE
Head Start has been integral to Minnesota’s early learning system since 1988 when state funding was first allocated to expand service to more Minnesota children growing up in poverty. Independent studies conducted in Minnesota clearly demonstrate that Head Start’s comprehensive, two-generation approach offers high-quality early learning experiences that boost school readiness outcomes for participating low-income children. Evidence also indicates that Head Start’s family engagement and culturally responsive teaching practices produce strong outcomes for Minnesota’s racially diverse children.
Achieving our goal of offering every income-eligible family access to Head Start is well within our reach. We can get there by investing in the critical infrastructure necessary to expand services including the development of a diverse and well-trained workforce, quality facilities designed for children birth to 5 and sustained funding. To effectively support the expansion of Head Start within Minnesota’s diverse early learning delivery system will require the following:
- Dedicated and sustained funding to ensure Head Start can serve families with young children prenatal to age 5. This includes clarification in state law to allow Head Start programs to do so.
- Enhanced funding and new opportunities to grow a diverse early childhood professional workforce:
- “Grow Your Own” grant support to create on-the-job credentialing and degree attainment for new, culturally diverse early childhood teachers
- Scholarship programs to encourage entry into early childhood AA and BA programs (i.e. Inspiring Scholars and TEACH scholarships)
- Flexible loan forgiveness that encourage young professionals to work in early childhood settings
- State investments in early childhood facilities that meet the need of children birth to 5 across the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area and Greater Minnesota, including:
- Flexible grant funding through the Department of Employment and Economic Development to address the shortage of child care facilities and workforce
- Early childhood bonding and general fund support facility projects in partnership with government entities
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.
In addition, we advocate the following Guiding Principles as minimal requirements for new and improving public policies in early childhood.
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 state funding limits Early Head Start to only about 1,040 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.