As leaders in the Twin Cities’ early learning space, we believe that now is the time to make changes that would both improve the current early care and education system in Minnesota and provide the infrastructure to make progress toward affordable, accessible and high-quality early care and education for every Minnesota child. The Walz administration’s Supporting Children and Families proposal is a strong start, but we urge the Legislature to go further and make the most of an unprecedented state budget surplus to invest in systemic changes to Minnesota’s early care and education infrastructure.
We urge Minnesotans to support investments in these three infrastructure changes to ensure proper management and function of a quality, mixed-delivery system of programs for children. We are advocating to establish an Office of Early Learning, transform the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and modernize program administration through new technology.
Establishing an Office of Early Learning will advance solutions to the overly complex and fragmented collection of programs identified by the Office of the Legislative Auditor in Minnesota’s Early Childhood Programs. A single Office of Early Learning can align program requirements to reduce bureaucratic complexity for families, providers and administering agencies. Further, it will reduce unnecessary administrative duplication and promote effective data sharing and program evaluation. Improving the overall system will reduce costs in the long term and make this year’s program investments sustainable.
Transforming the Child Care Assistance Program will move Minnesota closer to more equitable, accessible and affordable child care. We support the Supporting Children and Families proposal to fully-fund Basic Sliding Fee child care and urge the legislature to fully realize the extent to which Minnesota could expand family support under current federal law.
With additional state investment, the program could move closer to universal access to high-quality care by raising income limits to make more families eligible for help, reducing out-of-pocket costs for low-income families and requiring provider participation in Minnesota’s quality rating system, Parent Aware, after incorporating recommendations from the Parent Aware Racial Equity Report.
Finally, we must invest in modern technology for program administration — we cannot modernize our system of early care and education without taking this crucial step. The programs in Minnesota that provide critical assistance to our most vulnerable families run on technology that is more than 30 years old. Aging infrastructure is hard to maintain and adapt to this century and exacerbates staffing issues for county and tribal agencies administering programs, leading to delays or errors in processing benefits for families in desperate need.
Most importantly, these investments could reduce substantial inequities in our current environment. Many more families would be eligible for and could take advantage of support, reducing stigma for families utilizing subsidies. Such a program would help alleviate the challenge that some families face in feeling limited to earning poverty wages in order to maintain eligibility for child care subsidies, knowing that for many families, out-of-pocket child care costs can exceed what they spend on housing.
If you agree we have a responsibility to equitable, affordable, accessible and high-quality child care for all Minnesota families, we ask you to support the use of the unprecedented state surplus to lay a foundation for the future.
Sondra Samuels is the CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone and Nicole Frethem is the a Ramsey County commissioner. They co-chair the Generation Next Policy Work Group.