Rep. Mindy Greiling (D-Roseville) says in bleak financial times, nonprofit agencies typically go to the Legislature and say, “Don’t cut me. Please don’t cut me.” That approach needs to change, she told an auditorium full of nonprofit leaders.
“Did the Wall Street lobbyists stop lobbying for the $700 billion bailout? Did the auto industry people stop lobbying and say, ‘Oh please, don’t cut us!'” she said. “You have to have the confidence to do what the big players do—which is ask for more.”
The line got a big applause.
Greiling made her comments at the Children’s Issues Legislative Briefing Thursday sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and the Sheltering Arms Foundation and held at St. Paul’s Neighborhood House. Hundreds of people who work for nonprofit organizations serving children and families attended. The briefing coincided with the announcement elsewhere in St. Paul that Minnesota officially faces a nearly $5.3 billion budget deficit through the next biennium (and that’s not even counting inflation).
Greiling, chair of the K-12 Finance Division last biennium, said numerous cuts would be proposed this session, but the budget solution needed to include some tax increases. Education offered the path of least resistance, she said. Various polls suggest between 70 and 86 percent of people would support tax increases for education.
Other children’s programs needed support, too, she said. But raising money for K-12 education (about 40 percent of the state budget) would create breathing room for other programs that might not have as much political support.
Marc Kimball, communications director for Children’s Defense Fund Minnesota, talked about some of the changes an Obama administration would bring, including efforts to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable tax credit for low-income working families.
Democrats see expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) as “low-hanging fruit, he said. President Bush vetoed the expansion. Congress could pass it again fairly quickly. The measure would cover three to four million of the estimated nine million children nationally that lack health insurance. (Minnesota has approximately 85,000 uninsured kids.)
Kimball had a gripping image to illustrate the problem. If all the children in the country without health insurance held hands, they would stretch from Lake Itasca, down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico—and back. (I had a “no way!” moment and checked the math. It works. There would be less than 3 feet between kids. They wouldn’t even have to stretch to hold hands.)
Rep. Nora Slawik (D-Maplewood), who chaired the Early Childhood Learning Finance Division last biennium, talked about a slow expansion of a Quality Rating System for early childcare. The Minnesota Early Learning Foundation is piloting the system. It helps parents select care providers through a one-star to four-star rating scale, based on staff training, experience and other factors.
“What you will see is probably very slimmed down proposals but we are hoping to pass some version of that,” Slawik said, who called it both exciting and doable in the current financial environment.
Chris Ganzlin, the McKnight Foundation’s director of children and families programs, talked about a multi-foundation effort to create a Minnesota Early Childhood Business Plan.
Started in February, the group has been holding discussion groups around the state, and is developing an early childhood asset inventory and drafting an action plan. An outline of the action plan will be released in mid-January. The goal is to get more comments and complete it by April 1.
Participating funders are: The Minneapolis Foundation, the Bush Foundation, the Blandin Foundation, Sheltering Arms, McKnight, the Grotto Foundation, Social Venture Partners and the Greater Twin Cities United Way.
The plan will draw attention to the three-legged stool of early childhood supports: the family, the public sector and the private/nonprofit sector, Ganzlin said.
“We are not just going to be calling on the public sector — especially in times of scarcity that we are facing today — to say, ‘You need to fully fund this,'” she said. “What we want to lay out is more of a complete picture of different things all of us can be engaged in.”