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Early learning system proposed

Published (3/11/2010)
By Kris Berggren
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The House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division approved a bill March 9 that contains the Education Department’s policy recommendations, including a provision to establish a statewide early learning and care system. A key goal would be to “prepare all children for kindergarten.”

Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood), who sponsors HF3407, noted that the statutory goal of preparing all children for school by 2020 is supported by the governor’s early childhood advisory council.

The statewide system would organize components of existing programs delivered by public and private child care, preschool, school-based programs and Head Start into a coherent structure. Components include curriculum, instructional practice, child and program assessments, family supports, professional development, engagement and outreach, accountability, financing and governance.

“It seems really big and really all-encompassing to me,” said Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina). “Would any child care provider be able to exist outside the system, and would I, as a parent, be able to keep my kids outside the system?”

Slawik, the division chairwoman, said most children in the state are, in fact, cared for outside the purview of any state oversight. Children not at home with their parents are often cared for in “family, friend and neighbor” care arrangements, which are informal, unlicensed care arrangements provided, for example, by grandparents or other relatives.

“There are a bunch of kids who are totally off the radar screen,” she said. “I’d like to see us doing some kind of supports to those families and those kids and talk about quality, but right now the state is not involved at all.”

Other proposed changes include provisions for charter schools to conduct early childhood health and development screening, as do district schools, and a requirement that schools use school readiness aid for eligible children. It would allow school districts to accept non-income eligible children into the program but on a fee-for-service basis.

The division laid the bill over for possible inclusion in its omnibus bill. It has no Senate companion.

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