Early childhood programs and funding are getting lots of attention recently with a push at both the state and federal levels to expand funding and offerings.
That’s a good thing. Our children’s early years deserve the deepest investment possible because the payoff is so obvious. It’s also to our advantage in southern Minnesota that this area has been a leader in early childhood education for a long time.
Last week was the 10th anniversary celebration of the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative. Collaborated by the Minnesota Initiative Foundations, the program has grown to include 90 community and county coalitions based in more than 300 sites, said Sara Carlson, program officer for the Southwest Initiative Foundation.
Each coalition is tailored to its region’s unique needs. The network of coalitions focuses on quality care and education for children from birth to age 5. A main priority over the years has been to offer training to child care providers.
The importance of strengthening early childhood education programs and expanding them is proven by the support they receive beyond government funding. The Mankato business community has been a strong supporter of early childhood programs. The United Way here helps fund nine programs to help families afford preschool or other early-childhood education. And in 2012, the McKnight Foundation made a three-year grant of $900,000 to the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation for the Early Childhood Initiative. The grant is to strengthen the early literacy goal of improvement pre-K to grade 3 outcomes for children across the state.
This year the state of Minnesota took decisive action to invest in its young children. A bill was passed at the Legislature that added $485 million to the education budget over the next two years, including $134 million for all-day kindergarten.The bill also added $40 million in government scholarships for low-income parents to send their kids to preschool. It’s an expansion of a program first piloted in three sites, including Blue Earth and Nicollet counties.