The Importance of Early Education

A statewide collaboration held its fifth annual Little Moments Count conference virtually in December 2020. Governor Tim Walz announced the work of the Children’s Cabinet, which consists of 22 state agencies focused on reducing disparities experienced by children, including those in Greater Minnesota, and making recommendations on how to collectively improve systems. It interacts with two citizens-based advisory councils, including one specifically about early education and childcare.

Sondra Samuels

The keynote speaker at the conference was Sondra Samuels, president and CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone, who asked: “When we know that 80 percent of brain development happens in the first 1,000 days of life, why isn’t there more funding available? For every $1 spent on quality early learning, there is a $16 return. Why are 40,000 of our youngest citizens, often from low-income families, denied access to quality early learning, because of affordability or access?”

Samuels pointed out that the impact of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd revealed “that something was going on in Minnesota. The convergence of these events demonstrated for all to see the huge racial disparities that exist. Blacks have known about these disparities all along.”

She added: “Racist policies allow disparities to continue.”

Samuels noted that South Korea offers full and free care for children from birth to age two. She quoted the Russian-born psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, who was instrumental in starting the Head Start program in 1965: “Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.”

Samuels suggests that Minnesota gave the world the murder of George Floyd, which has instigated the exposure of racist policies that are no longer acceptable. “Let’s also give them a Minnesota that becomes the best early learning center in the country in the world!”

In St. Cloud, after it was noticed that families from some communities of color were not taking advantage of early childhood programs, the THRIVE consortium began specific engagement with four specific cultural groups: Somali, Latinx, South Sudan, and Vietnamese. As the 2021 “Rural Communities Equity Action Guide” reports, the project “was not intended to be a welcoming community strategy or an attempt to assimilate a specific group into a community. It was about meeting a specific need.”

A multi-year process led to relationship building and trust. In addition to increased rates of early childhood development engagement, public health interactions have also improved.

A recent Prenatal to Three Policy Forum hosted by the University of St. Thomas noted that a 2021 goal is to keep federal assistance for childcare facilities — which have been maintained at pre-COVID-19 numbers because of funding — consistent in the post-pandemic era. A future goal is to create a new Minnesota Department of Early Care and Education.

“Learning How to Be an Ally, Part 2: Education”

How does Minnesota compare to other states in education?

Why is the Federal Reserve seeking to improve education in Minnesota through a constitutional amendment?

How is the Biden Administration prioritizing education?

How is the Northside Achievement Zone finding solutions that are applicable both in urban and rural settings?

What is available at the legislative level that would have an impact, including trauma-informed solutions? COMING SOON

What is the relationship between after-school programs and crime? COMING SOON