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Access to quality early childhood care and education must be top priority in 2019 legislative session

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Acooa Ellis
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.


Unfortunately, many loving and dedicated families don’t have the tools and resources they need to help their kids overcome challenges faced by their families.

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Ann Mulholland
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.  

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TraNeicia Sylvester
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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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 01/03/2019 - 09:16 am.

    Does it really take having a baby to realize they are extremely time consuming, expensive to raise and the biggest commitment of your life? Who is going to pay for this universal baby sitting? Do some research on the beginnings of Kindergarten (early 1960’s) and how having children for an extra year was going to level the educational field for all kids. It didn’t work! Now the same educators are telling you pre-K is the ticket to a better educated society. We spend 10’s of thousands per student, per year now for 13 years of public education (K-12) with poor results, I’m sure with pre-K, universal child care, plus the Government overseeing the raising of American children, all will be perfect.
    Raising children used to be the most important job a couple would have, now we want the Government to do it for us….. Doesn’t say much about our society and future.

  2. Submitted by Jay Davis on 01/03/2019 - 04:06 pm.

    Nicely -written piece on an important topic. So happy to see discussion on the critical role that good quality child care plays in our economy without the discussion being tainted by the usual unsupported claims of $16 to $1 benefit cost ratios. The authors raise issues so important that exaggeration is not needed.

  3. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 01/03/2019 - 05:43 pm.

    May I assume that such “access to quality early childhood care and education” must be free? What are those costs to the “singlepayer”?

  4. Submitted by Benedict Martinka on 01/07/2019 - 09:06 pm.

    It’s disturbing to hear our state is ranked so poorly in this realm. Having recently moved outside of the Cities, I can tell you it only gets worse in rural areas. But it’s great to at least know there are positions like Acooa’s and Ann’s carved out to try to do something about it and to raise awareness at a minimum. Not on their own of course! I’m still of the belief it takes a village to raise a child. Perhaps a state. To Joe Smith’s comment, I agree that greater priority and attention to child formation should be given at home and that it has to start there, and one never wants to create an over-dependency upon government or create a welfare state. But Mr. Smith spoke only of child care and couples, completely ignoring special needs children and single parent families, such as the single-income example of DeNae and TraNeicia implied. And anyone who has ever seen an overwhelmed parent in either one of those situations, let alone both combined, can tell you that he’s clearly out of touch. And the same village that used to help raise the child also helped support the parents themselves in various ways. That’s no longer the case either, relatively speaking for sure, or in larger communities where we become anonymous. It’s time to get back to both. Maybe the state or the city can’t show up at their doorstep with a care package. Maybe they can. But it’s about putting the right structures in place so that care can happen. Thanks for caring.

    • Submitted by Benedict Martinka on 01/08/2019 - 09:51 am.

      P.S. Having two siblings with special needs children myself and being married to another, I have a ton of respect for parents who advocate tirelessly for their kids. Okay maybe tirelessly is the wrong word. It’s tiring work to be sure. Let’s help remove the walls they can run up against at every turn while doing so, and create value and real help waiting for them on the other side.

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