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Child care rating inches forward

Published (2/18/2010)
By Kris Berggren
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Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) questioned House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division Chairwoman Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood) Feb. 16 about whether a statewide rollout of a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) for child care centers and family child care providers is inevitable.

Not necessarily, and especially not in the current funding climate and projected $1.2 billion state deficit, Slawik said. However, a bill she sponsors, HF2760, would direct $500,000 in available federal funds toward training and support for providers interested in participating in a quality rating system. It was held over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

A pilot program sponsored by the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF), Parent Aware, is in its third year of operation.

Among Downey’s concerns is that Parent Aware has not yet been evaluated to see if it prepares children for kindergarten or helps parents choose a child care setting, the two primary purposes for which it was created. A final evaluation is expected next fall.

“I still have questions as to whether we’ve substantiated through the MELF pilot whether there is any real direct correlation between the QRIS and actual improvements in readiness, and also whether there are alternative strategies besides just a statewide, publicly run program for that,” Downey said.

Rep. Sandra Peterson (DFL-New Hope) reminded the division that the Legislature approved such a system last year, without specifying which system to use or how it will be funded.

The bill would direct funds already allocated to Minnesota to grants available to help providers prepare for a rating system. For example, grants could help providers improve their facilities, receive coaching from other providers or buy an educational curriculum. Funds would be administered through the 16 regional agencies of the nonprofit Child Care Resource and Referral Network, said its executive director Ann McCully. She said 250 early responses from member providers in 57 counties to a statewide survey indicate that many, though not all, providers indicate they are interested in participating in a quality rating system.

A companion bill, SF2505, sponsored by Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

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