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More MN Children School-Ready, but Money Does Matter

PHOTO: The latest data show more Minnesota kids are prepared when they get to kindergarten than ever before. Photo credit: Micha Hanson
PHOTO: The latest data show more Minnesota kids are prepared when they get to kindergarten than ever before. Photo credit: Micha Hanson
December 18, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The focus and investment on early childhood in Minnesota is paying off, as the latest data show more kids than ever are prepared when they get to kindergarten.

A new report finds nearly three in four are school-ready, and Alexandra Fiztsimmons, egislative affairs and advocacy director for Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota, credited greater access to quality early-childhood programs.

"Those skills stay with them, and those skills are important in helping them meet the milestones that we look at with being able to ready by third grade and then graduating from high school, and incomes as adults," she said, "and all of those things are connected."

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, 73 percent of children in the state were school-ready when they entered kindergarten last year, up from 60 percent two years earlier.

While there has been improvement overall, the school-readiness rates for children from low-income families still lag behind those with greater means. Fitzsimmons said one focus now is providing immediate support for the youngest and poorest children, including the 35,000 covered monthly under the Minnesota Family Investment Program.

"We need to connect these children to early intervention," she said. "We need to connect them to ECFE, Early Childhood Family Education. We need to connect them to Early Head Start and Head Start."

The school readiness report doesn't break down the figures by race, but Fitzsimmons noted that significant disparities persist across all indicators of well-being, including poverty.

"In 2011, our overall poverty rate for children was 15 percent," she said. "But now, when we look and we break it down by race, we know that 46 percent of African-American children and 30 percent of Hispanic children are living in poverty. So, to think about that within the framework of school readiness is important."

School readiness is defined as the skills and knowledge that children should have as they enter kindergarten in various areas of math, language, literacy and social development.

The Minnesota readiness data is online at education.state.mn.us.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN