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Early Start Key for Dayton's Promise of Educational Excellence

PHOTO: Gov. Mark Dayton is sharing more details about his pledge to create a "state of educational excellence," which advocates say must include expanding access to quality early childhood programs. Photo credit: Chris Parfitt/Flickr.
PHOTO: Gov. Mark Dayton is sharing more details about his pledge to create a "state of educational excellence," which advocates say must include expanding access to quality early childhood programs. Photo credit: Chris Parfitt/Flickr.
January 23, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Gov. Mark Dayton has vowed to make Minnesota a "state of educational excellence," and more than 800 leaders and advocates for children and youth will gather in St. Paul today to discuss ways to do that.

An educated workforce is vital to the state's economic future, said Denise Mayotte, co-chair and executive director of the Start Early Funders Coalition, and that begins with making sure all children are ready for kindergarten.

One effort that's finding success is called MinneMinds, which offers scholarships to low-income children for high-quality early learning programs, although Mayotte said it's severely underfunded.

"Right now, we're serving about 10 percent of the kids," she said. "So, we have a ways to go, and we're hopeful that we'll make some progress this year at the Legislature toward more funding for scholarships."

Dayton will outline all of his educational priorities for this session as part of his full budget proposal, due out next week.

Another strategy that's improving outcomes for the state's at-risk children, said Mayotte, is providing early intervention through home-visiting programs "which is something that can make a huge difference for young children in extremely disadvantaged families. And so, we're hopeful that this year, there'll be a set of standards that will be implemented for quality in home-visiting programs and looking towards the future at funding."

The Start Early Funders Coalition is made up of more than two dozen organizations across the state, including the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation. Its program officer, Allison Corrado, said education is one of the keys to building healthier communities.

"It's our earliest experiences that really shape health and well-being throughout our lives," she said. "So, kids that start kindergarten on track are much more likely to graduate high school on time; they're much more likely to get a higher-paying job, less likely to engage in risky behavior. And all of these things really contribute to long-term health."

Today's 2015 Children and Youth Issues Briefing is to include a 9 a.m. address by Dayton that will be streamed live online at event.netbriefings.com. Details of the event are at minnesotanonprofits.org.

More information is online at startearlyfundersmn.org and at bcbsmnfoundation.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN