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More Access to Early-Childhood Education Needed in Minnesota

Lawmakers in Minnesota are debating funding for early-childhood education programs. (Sierra Neely)
Lawmakers in Minnesota are debating funding for early-childhood education programs. (Sierra Neely)
April 27, 2017

ROSEVILLE, Minn. -- A new in-depth look at children’s access to programs - part of Minnesota's new Early-Childhood Longitudinal Data System - finds that children of color, Native Americans and lower-income children are more likely than their wealthier, white peers to be enrolled in at least one of four early-childhood programs in the state.

Stephanie Hogenson, research and policy director at the Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota, said the Child Care Assistance program drives access to early childhood programs, but nearly 90 percent of the kids who are income eligible aren't participating because of a lack of state funding

"Our Legislature is currently debating some proposals to increase funding for the program, as well as improve the program to make it more family friendly and more accessible for families, as well as easier to use for providers,” Hogenson said.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he wants to use part of the state's $1.65 billion budget surplus to fund preschool programs in the state. But Republicans released their own plan to eliminate it, close an arts school and remove multiple automatic budget increases for school programs.

Dayton has called it appalling for lawmakers to use 4-year-olds as bargaining chips in budget negotiations.

Hogenson said focus and outreach need to be placed on getting children of color, Native Americans and those from lower-income families into early-education programs. Nationally, 3- and 4-year-old Asian children are enrolled in school, including public and private early-education programs, at a higher rate than their peers. However, of all the states, Minnesota has the lowest rate.

"Minnesota has a large immigrant population. We have to pay attention to specific needs of immigrants to make sure outreach is targeted and transportation and language and literacy and other barriers are addressed," Hogenson said.

She stressed the need for increased access to early childhood programs, saying it's one of the most effective ways to improve student achievement, close gaps between racial and socio-economic groups, and create positive education results.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MN