Lucinda Jesson: Quality child care is a needed Valentine for Minnesota families
At Super School-Age Care in Rochester, roses are rojo, violets are azul and young children are receiving quality early education that will prepare them for a lifetime of success.
On Tuesday, I was able to observe the kind of high-quality care we hope to soon make available to more Minnesotans through important investments in Gov. Mark Dayton's budget proposal. This legislative session, the governor is making child care a major priority, proposing more than $115 million to help families better afford its rising cost.
In addition to $100 million in child-care tax credits for working families, the governor is proposing a $17.6 million investment in the Minnesota Department of Human Services budget to increase access to quality child care programs, especially for children from families with low incomes. These proposals will help thousands of Minnesota families get their children ready for school and help their bottom lines.
At Super School-Age Care, a four-star Parent Aware rated program, Gayleen Johnson told me the brains of her preschool-age students are like sponges. The same thing is found in research, which says 90 percent of brain development happens before age 5.
I saw the truth of this firsthand as we did a Valentine's Day art project. Spanish lessons about color were sopped up, and the words came back out as kids chose their paints. Cutting paper hearts with scissors, squirting shaving cream to create their canvases and swirling the colors into unique patterns, I could see them improving motor, social and emotional skills, as well as developing creativity that might someday help create the next 3M or Medtronic. These experiences are important parts of child development and will help prepare them to enter kindergarten ready to learn.
But too many children in Minnesota don't have these opportunities. Thousands of kids live in poverty, including 78,000 in deep poverty. We know the ladder to a better life for these children is education, especially early education, which is why the governor's budget focuses so strongly on our youngest learners.
Specifically, the governor's Human Services budget proposal reduces the number of poor children waiting for our Child Care Assistance Program, increases access to higher quality child care for kids that need it most and will make it easier for kids to not only get on our programs but to stay on as well.
In Olmsted County, 81 families were waiting in line for financial assistance for child care at last count, with another 20 in neighboring Goodhue and Wabasha counties. They are among more than 6,100 families statewide who are on waiting lists for the Basic Sliding Fee program that helps working parents afford child care. The governor proposes $12.5 million to remove 750 families, or more than 1,300 children, from the list by targeting funding to counties where the need is greatest.
The budget also includes $3.5 million to help develop the number of high-quality child care providers through Parent Aware so more of our most vulnerable children get the strong starts they need. Parent Aware is the state's voluntary quality rating system that gives parents the tools and information they need to find the best quality child care and early education near them. More information is available at ParentAware.org. Under the governor's proposal, 8,000 children who receive child care assistance will have access to highly rated Parent Aware programs.
Finally, the governor's budget streamlines our Child Care Assistance Program, making it easier to get in, and remain in, the program. This will simplify requirements so that the amount of covered care is tied to a child's need, rather than the parent's work schedule.
Gov. Dayton knows by getting children off to a strong start we increase the likelihood of their future academic success and put them on a path to a successful and happy life. These are the doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators of tomorrow, and this is how we pass prosperity on to the next generation of Minnesotans to ensure we have a state that works for all of us.
Lucinda Jesson is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.