Leave it to a seasoned professional hand working with leading Minnesota CEOs and good things do happen.
In a first-in-the-nation $20M experiment that began six years ago, Minnesota business leaders hired former Senate Republican leader Duane Benson, set a plan to recommend cost-effective strategies to prepare children for success in kindergarten, and, anted up the cash to make it happen.
By now, most insiders are aware that over half of Minnesota’s kindergarteners come to school not fully prepared to succeed, based on an annual classroom teacher assessment that the state developed nearly a decade ago.
School readiness linked to bustling workforce
There is, of course, a link between school readiness of five year olds and the creation of a much desired bustling workforce 15-20 years later.
Initially, the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF) was to be a public-private partnership but the CEO board members decided to self-fund, turning back a $1M state grant because of the red tape involved.
MELF’s actions for the last several years have focused on independently audited research into innovative early learning programs. In Minneapolis, St. Paul, Wayzata and two Greater Minnesota counties — Nicollet and Blue Earth — the group has been finding out what works best in preparing young minds for school and later success.
According to public opinion polls, a large majority of Minnesotans agree that something must be done now to help parents and providers prepare our youngest children for success in school.
Ten key legislative champions expected to weigh in
Lawmakers, convening in five weeks in St. Paul, will be given an opportunity to move the too often ignored early learning issues into serious consideration, based on MELF’s recently completed homework on school readiness.
Among those expected to push for early learning in 2012 and beyond are Republicans Geoff Michel (District 41, Edina), who is interim Senate majority leader, and Sen. Carla Nelson (District 30, Rochester). Additionally, expect to see State Reps. Jennifer Loon (District 42B), the House Assistant Majority Leader, and, Pat Garafalo (District 36B, Farmington) as key policy players.
DFLers who have undertaken leadership for a number of years are State Sens.Terri Bonoff (District 43, Minnetonka) and Tony Lourey (District 8, Kerrick); in the House, State Reps. Nora Slawik (55B, Maplewood) and Sandra Peterson (45A, New Hope) are expected to be part of leading the effort. .
2012 legislative ideas
The 2012 and beyond agenda will likely include:
- Expanding, over time, a MELF inspired centerpiece “Parent Aware Ratings” program to all Minnesota parents, providers and children. The Consumer Reports-style rating helps parents find the child care providers in their area who are using best practices for preparing children for school.
- Streamlining child-care programs for parents and providers, focusing on school readiness of children.
- Enacting state tax credits to reward quality improvement and to encourage private investment.
- To reduce the current 34 funding streams, placing that money in need-based scholarships.
The MELF group, to sunset at the end of 2011 as Benson and the CEOs originally planned, challenges the private sector to continue to be involved in a new nonprofit organization called “Parent Aware for School Readiness.“ The market-based goal is to raise nongovernment funding to promote the ratings and to continually evaluate standards to keep them strong and evidence-based.
The research, results and recommendations are carefully spelled out for everyone in an 18-page Early Education Reform Blueprint.
This business policy work was done in the good old fashioned “win-win” Minnesota way.
Chuck Slocum is president of the Williston Group, a management consulting firm that has been involved in “Minnesota Business for Early Learning.“ He is a former state Republican chairman and executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. His e-mail is Chuck@WillistonGroup.com