Minnesota has several key leaders in business and economics leading the way in a state with the highest percentage of women in the labor force.
Art Rolnick and Rob Grunewald of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis quickly became deeply involved in early care and education after publishing an article in 2003 in the Reserve Bank’s FedGazette describing their research demonstrating that early care and education (ECE) is a good economic development investment.
Al Stroucken, a former Twin Cities-based CEO, has led business advocacy for ECE for many years, hosting events, directing the business group Minnesota Business for Early Learning, and serving on the Twin Cities United Way Board.
In 2001, a nonprofit advocacy group called Ready 4 K was formed. Ready 4 K focuses on four strategic activities: grassroots organizing, raising awareness of early childhood and school readiness issues, engaging the business community, and developing public policy.
In 2002, the state’s Department of Children, Families and Learning was disbanded and early care and education programs were moved to the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services.
In 2002, Minnesota became one of the first states in the nation to produce an economic impact study. The Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network partnered with the Insight Center to produce the study with the help of an Advisory Board. The Advisory Board included leaders in ECE, labor research, business, and economic development.
Using Economic Messages
After the study was completed, the partners hired a media relations company with expertise in business reporting to help communicate the findings to business and government leaders. The report was released in October, 2003, at the H.B. Fuller Company in St. Paul. Rob Grunewald from the Federal Reserve Bank; the Co-chairs of the State Children’s Legislative Caucus; two Human Resource managers; and a representative from a local economic development authority that invested in ECE as an economic development tool, were all asked to be on a panel. The panel was moderated by the editor of the Pioneer Press, David Beal..
In October, 2003, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and the McKnight Foundation, in cooperation with the University of Minnesota, co-hosted a conference entitled: “The Economics of Early Childhood Development: Lessons for Economic Policy.” The conference provided an opportunity for economists, public policy analysts, medical professionals and educators to share their research on early childhood development, and gained national attention from the Federal Reserve Bank’s role in the conference.
In March, 2005, the advocacy group Ready 4 K and the Minnesota Initiative Foundations held one of the biggest gatherings of early childhood advocates in Minnesota focused on investing in young children. The conference, entitled “Seize the Opportunity: Invest in Young Children,” included high-level speakers such as Senator Norm Coleman, Ready 4 K President Todd Otis, former Governor Al Quie, and a panel with Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson. More than 750 people attended, and represented parents, early childhood providers, business leaders, police chiefs, legislators, scholars, and experts from multiple state departments. There were more than 200 commitments to take action for children as a result of the event.
A number of key business leaders in Minnesota have elevated the issue of young children in the Minnesota business community. In March 2004, business leaders formed the Minnesota School Readiness Business Advisory Council, which was later renamed Minnesota Business for Early Learning. The group focuses on the role of business in the early learning and school readiness of pre-kindergarten children. The coalition hired Chuck Slocum, former Director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, Manager at Honeywell, and State Chairman of the Independent Republicans of Minnesota, as a consultant to develop and implement a plan to engage business in early care and education issues.
On November 18, 2005, Minnesota Business for Early Learning hosted a Minnesota Business Forum on School Readiness in St. Paul. Candidates for Governor and other participants heard about a study of early learning programs in Minnesota conducted by McKinsey and company for the Itasca Project.
In Fall 2005, the bipartisan Early Childhood Caucus of the Minnesota Legislature and the advocacy group Ready 4 K held community forums in seven locations throughout the state to discuss public policies that affect children and families.
In 2007, Ready 4 K sponsored billboards throughout Minnesota stating that Minnesota’s “Can Do” list includes getting kids ready for kindergarten.
In spring 2007, Ready 4 K printed four large, full-color inserts that were distributed inside several newspapers across the state, including the Minnesota edition of the New York Times.
In May, 2007, CEOs signed an open letter to every Minnesota legislator urging them to support young children, printed in Minnesota’s main paper, along with faith leaders and law enforcement officials.
Boosting the Economic Power of Early Care and Education: Key Highlights
In late 2004, the Invest Early Leadership Team of Itasca County, which includes Grand Rapids, Minnesota, received $1.5 million from the Blandin Foundation to develop and implement a model for serving young children in Itasca. The foundation also offered the possibility of renewing the grant for up to ten years. The model supports collaboration and coordination among existing programs, such as Head Start or ECE subsidy reimbursements. These programs are then augmented with supplemental resources and services from Invest Early, such as transportation and wraparound care to extend the learning day while parents work. Invest Early also introduced a common application form to determine eligibility for all ECE services and screen for a variety of risk factors such as parent education level, age of mother, family stress levels, and the absence of a parent from the family. Eligible children are then ranked for program placement according to these factors.
In 2005, the Itasca Project, a 40-member group of CEOs, the Governor, the Mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the President of the University of Minnesota, contracted McKinsey and Company to produce a report that described the early childhood system in business terms and offered recommendations for moving forward.
In 2005, a public-private partnership was formed to address issues of early learning. The partnership, the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF), is operated by a Board of CEOs, university presidents, and other thought leaders in Minnesota who work together to build partnerships and explore the economic case for investments in early childhood, with the goal of implementing cost-effective strategies for preparing children, particularly those at risk, to succeed in kindergarten by 2011. Initial funding included a $1 million appropriation and a $2.5-million match in seed money from Cargill, The McKnight Foundation and the United Way. The executive director, Duane Benson, is head of the Minnesota Business Partnership and Senate Republican leader in the Minnesota Legislature.
In 2006, the University of Minnesota's Center for Early Education & Development and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis founded the Early Childhood Research Collaborative. The collaborative explores links between early education and economic development, public health, K-12 education and other connections through multidisciplinary research on early childhood development from birth to age 8.
On December 7 and 8, 2007, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis hosted “The Human Capital Conference Series on Early Childhood Development: Critical Issues in Cost Effectiveness in Children's First Decade." The conference presented recent research on the effects of early childhood programs with four focus areas: children’s stage of development; cost-effectiveness; program focus; and scale.
In 2007, the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation launched the Parent Aware quality rating system, the Saint Paul Early Childhood Scholarship Program, and Comprehensive Scalable Community Projects in four communities. A rigorous, coordinated evaluation design, involving the University of Minnesota’s Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) and three other nationally-known evaluators, is underway. This process will ultimately result in information on the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of the various projects.
- The Parent Aware quality rating system provides parents with an online system they can use to find a quality early childhood provider based on objective ratings. By the end of 2007, 180 early childhood providers signed up to participate in Parent Aware. - The Saint Paul Early Childhood Scholarship Program was developed to understand how school readiness can be boosted by providing low-income parents mentors for parenting and scholarships for quality programs which they choose where to use. The program also investigates how the ECE market is affected by this change in demand for quality by parents with the information and resources necessary to choose quality programs for their young children. - The Comprehensive Scalable Community Pilot Projects are in four communities. The projects are intended to increase learning readiness among low-income families living in these areas by funding a set of well-integrated, best-practice strategies for early childhood education and development.
State and Legislative Actions
In 2008, ECE programs were cut by $9 million as the state was facing a major budget deficit.
In 2008, the legislature created a State Advisory Council on Early Education and Care that includes four legislators and two parents with children under the age of six, as well as representatives from state departments overseeing early childhood programs, Head Start, school districts, and local ECE providers.
In 2007, the legislature approved nearly $39 million in additional funding for various elements of an early childhood system, including supports for parents, increased quality, increased access, and increased accountability for results. Funding for specific programs included:
- $750,000 in one-time funds for a new Family, Friend, and Neighbor grant program to improve informal care by supporting partnerships between libraries, Native American tribes, child care resource and referral agencies, and other community organizations. - Nearly $9 million for home-visiting services to low-income families to support healthy attachments between parents and children and connect families with community resources. - $6 million to support the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation’s Pre-Kindergarten Exploratory Allowances pilot project. The pilot will offer low-income parents mentorship and funds to choose high-quality programs for their three- and four-year olds. The program is being piloted in North Minneapolis, two neighborhoods in Saint Paul, Wayzata/Plymouth, and Blue Earth and Nicollet Counties in Southern Minnesota. Early care and education programs that must participate in the Parent Aware Quality Rating System and be highly rated.
In 2005, the legislature established the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF) and appropriated $1 million to match $2.5 million from private sector donors.
In 2005, the “Early Care and Education Coordination Bill” was passed. The Bill demands that state agencies that work with children and families coordinate efforts to work toward a seamless system for families.
In 2005, the legislature approved a $4 million increase in funding to Head Start and $5.5 million in new funding to the state’s Early Childhood and Family Education (ECFE) program. This followed years of cuts to early care and education.
Child Care Works is a statewide advocacy group working to achieve and sustain affordable, high-quality early care and education for the families and communities of Minnesota. Child Care Works advocates for public policies that support children, families and caregivers; organizes events that strengthen the coalition and keep advocates updated; creates opportunities for those with a passion to get involved; serves as a media resource and offers public speakers on child care issues.
Minnesota Business for Early Learning (MnBEL) is a 200-member organization of CEOs, senior executives and business leaders representing more than 100 companies and organizations focused on the role of business in the early learning and school readiness of pre-kindergarten children. MnBEL oversight takes place through an executive committee and has three working groups: awareness/communications, best practices, and policy.
The Minnesota Early Learning Foundation was created to ensure that our children receive the resources to which they are entitled. The foundation produces research about the most cost-effective ways to prepare our at-risk children for school and the workforce, demonstrates what works, makes recommendations for reinvesting public and private resources, and finds new ways to reach and support at-risk children.
The Early Childhood Research Collaborative was founded by the University of Minnesota's Center for Early Education & Development and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. The collaborative explores links between early education and economic development, public health, K-12 education and other connections.
The Itasca Project is a 40-member group of CEOs in the Twin Cities metro region, the Governor, the Mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the President of the University. The project supports initiatives that foster economic growth and social well being by enlisting local business to participate in corporate citizenship activities. The Itasca Project aligned with Ready 4 K in support of early childhood development & learning programs.
The Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network works to help families find early care and education and understand their care options, supports early care and education providers through grants and education and informs the community about the importance of early care and education.