Dayton unveils Early Learning Council membership as part of ‘education blitz’

Gov. Mark Dayton at the Minnesota Reading Corps Summer Institute before speaking about the importance of early childhood literacy on Wednesday.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Gov. Mark Dayton at the Minnesota Reading Corps Summer Institute before speaking about the importance of early childhood literacy on Wednesday.

Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled the leadership of the Early Learning Council he established in March after a blitz of education-related events across the metro Wednesday morning.

In outlining the group’s duties — to advise the governor, the Legislature and state agency leaders “on how to increase access to high quality state and federal early childhood care and education programs for all Minnesota learners” — Dayton also reaffirmed his priority of gettingt federal Race to the Top funding for early childhood education.

Minnesota could receive up to $50 million from the federal government by increasing opportunities for low-income children to secure high-quality early-education options. The state is not eligible for a separate Race to the Top initiative that would divide $200 million among selected recipients.

“This is an exciting day for Minnesota’s youngest learners and for Minnesota’s vision to make our education system second to none,” Education Department Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said of the council, which will be chaired by former Deputy Education Commissioner Barb Yates.

One of the council’s first tasks will be to work with Dayton, lawmakers and the “Children’s Cabinet” – made up of state agency heads – on Minnesota’s Race to the Top application, Cassellius said. The overall goal of the program is to ensure every child in Minnesota is school-ready by 2020.

Minnesota is looking to “put in a very competitive application” full of “creative and bold initiatives to really support quality child care,” she said. One of the key features of the application will be the state’s rating system for early childhood education options, which began in 2009 and will continue under existing law.

In addition to applying for Race to the Top funds, Dayton also requested a No Child Left Behind waiver from the U.S. Education Department earlier this week. Coupled with the waiver, the governor said he’s charged Cassellius with focusing on the “whole realm of student testing in the state” and identifying where redundancy and extra testing occurs.

“We want better accountability, we want better results, but we don’t want to send third-graders home thinking they’ve failed life,” Dayton said.

The governor, who strongly campaigned on early childhood education initiatives, lost $33 million in funding for all-day kindergarten during budget negotiations, but came out with a $5.5 million increase for third-grade reading initiatives.

He celebrated that triumph with the Minnesota Reading Corps just before dashing off to announce the Early Learning Council’s leadership. Both the council and the Reading Corps will work to ensure the state’s children are proficient in reading by third grade, Dayton said. A similar policy provision prohibiting advancement to fourth grade unless reading standards were met was slashed from the K-12 Education bill before it passed in July.

Here’s a list of the Early Education Council’s Members (four lawmakers will be added to the council later):

Chairwoman Barb Yates, a former deputy education commissioner and current executive director of Resources for Child Caring.  

Victoria Campverde, a parent facilitator for Minneapolis Public Schools.

Sara Carlson, a program officer with the Southwest Initiative Foundation.

David Cournoyer, a volunteer with the St. Paul Schools’ Indian Education Parent Committee.

Jackie Cross, Head Start director for Anoka County Community Action Programs.

Maria Erlandson, principal of Foley (Minn.) Elementary School.

Barbara Fabre, director of Child Care and Early Childhood Programs on White Earth Reservation.

Dianne Haulcy, chief operating officer of The Family Partnership.

Donna Henning, an Early Childhood Family Education child educator for New Ulm schools.

Susan Hoeft, adjunct faculty member for Foundations of Early Childhood Learning.

Denise Mayotte, co-chair of the Early Childhood Funders Network Steering Committee.

Scott McConnell, professor for the Center for Early Education and Development at the University of Minnesota.

Carol Miller, a senior human services manager at Hennepin County and a member of the Early Childhood Advisory Council Access and Finance Committee. 

Mariam Mohamed, a member of the Early Childhood Advisory Council Accountability Committee.

Patricia Nordahl, director of Cooperation Station Family Child Care and Headstart.

Molly Rieke, a family childcare provider at Molly J. Rieke Family Child Care.

Arthur Rolnick, senior fellow and co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and board member of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation. 

Fred Senn, an executive board member for Minnesota Business for Early Learning.

Carolyn Smallwood, executive director of Way to Grow and an advisory board member of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Early Education and Development.

Jill Timm, a public health and environment program manager for Washington County.

Yeu Vang, principal of Jackson Elementary School in St. Paul.

Michelle Zadra, involved in Early Childhood Family Education and other early education services in Virginia., Minn.

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