For thousands of Minnesotans, accessing early care and education has been a serious challenge. Chances are, you or someone you know has struggled to cover the cost of child care. And, while our state has made significant investments in early care and education in recent years to help children from prenatal to 5 meet critical developmental milestones, more than 35,000 children still lack access to quality programs. In Greater Minnesota, there has actually been a net loss of more than 15,000 child care spaces. The declining number only makes care harder to find, and more expensive.
These shortages have led to serious consequences across Minnesota. Parents, burdened with child care shortages and high costs, are often forced to find child care options that are not always in the best interest of their families.
TraNeicia, as a first-time mother, was faced with some of these challenges. She quickly realized how expensive child care was after the birth of her first child, DaNae. Because her daughter was born with hearing loss and concerns of developmental delays, TraNeicia was acutely aware of the need for a high-quality learning environment to support DaNae’s development. TraNeicia discovered she couldn’t cover the full cost of child care expenses from her paycheck.
Fortunately, DaNae was able to access home visiting services and attend a high-quality early care program through an early learning scholarship. Today, DaNae is thriving as a second-grader at a French immersion school, reading and communicating above average in both French and English. DaNae’s scholarship also qualified her little brother, 4-year-old JaMir, to receive one. He started French immersion this fall and is thriving alongside his sister.
Parents in 74 percent of households with children under age 6 are in the workforce. Thousands of families are currently added to long waitlists or don’t receive any assistance for child care. What happens when parents can’t afford to prepare their children for the future?
Minnesota continues to have one of the worst opportunity gaps in the nation. Children in families experiencing poverty, homelessness or other adverse conditions enter kindergarten unprepared to do their best. This hurts the well-being of our children, and greatly affects their chances for a stable and productive life. And we all lose when our community fails to support the growth of a child into their brilliance. To understand why, we need to talk about the scope of the problem.
Minnesota is currently ranked as the 5th least affordable state for center-based infant care, with an average annual cost of $15,340, or 55.7 percent of a single-parent family’s median income ($27,555). Lack of access to parent-directed, high-quality early care and education prevents the pursuit of educational and work opportunities that can advance parents’ careers and build a more stable future. Parents also need full-day, year-round child care to contribute consistently to their places of employment. This is an issue critical to the future of Minnesota families and our economy.
Across the state, we have some of the best early childhood care and education programs in the nation. Parent Aware helps families make informed decisions about where to send their children. Early learning scholarships support families with low incomes and gives them the ability to select the program that best suits their families. Targeted home visiting empowers parents with parenting and family support skills to provide stable, supportive environments that foster growth and learning. If we hope to close the opportunity gap, we must continue to invest in these programs and make sure ALL of our children have access to them.
There is bipartisan support for these programs, and we have seen increased investments in recent years. That said, we still have a long way to go.
As we look to the 2019 legislative session with a new governor and dozens of new legislators, we must make it clear to Minnesota lawmakers that early childhood support must continue to be a top priority for our state.
Acooa Ellis is senior vice president of Community Impact for Greater Twin Cities United Way and co-chair of the MinneMinds early childhood advocacy coalition. Ann Mulholland is vice president of community impact for the Saint Paul and Minnesota Foundations and co-chair of MinneMinds. TraNeicia Sylvester from St. Paul is a business owner, community health advocate and a mother of two children.
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