Committee Summary: House Early Childhood Finance and Policy, March 10

Reporting by Lolla Nur, Freelance Community Journalist

The Minnesota House Early Childhood Finance and Policy committee met to hear presentations and a report on early childhood family education and governance at 8:30am. The discussion was to help inform language for HF2231 (Pinto) on early childhood family education provisions. It was also to inform the committee on various governance models and approaches for governing early childcare in Minnesota. Committee chair, Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL 64B), is the author of the bill. 

MN Management and Budget’s Matt Kane (Senior Management Consultant) and Assistant Commissioner Erin Bailey co-presented a report titled, ​​”State-Level Governance for Early Childhood Programs in Minnesota. Publication Date: January 2022.” The report is a collaboration of both MMB and the state Children’s Cabinet. It was requested by the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy committee last year. 

The purpose of the report is to help inform the committee about best ways to explore consolidating state agencies, or creating a new agency, focused on early childhood and families. There were questions about pros and cons to co-locating early childhood programs in one agency. The report explored theoretical arguments for or against various approaches.

According to the report, the idea of consolidating early childhood programs is not new. Minnesota explored options in 1995, when the Department of Children, Youth and Families replaced the Department of Education (MDE). MDE was later restored. The state also established the Office of Early Learning at MDE in 2011.

The legislature introduced (but did not pass) a bill in 2021 to create a Department of Early Childhood; this would have consolidated some programs within MDE, Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Department of Health (MDH) into a new cabinet level agency. 

Key findings of this report are that: 

  • Governance and leadership is important. 
  • Consolidation offers opportunities for improved alignment but various (and unclear) ways to measure success. 
  • There’s no one correct governance model. 
  • Increased efficiency/decreased costs are unlikely. 

The report ended with the recommendation to explore creating an office to coordinate across state agencies, and if consolidating programs and policy — the need to define the scope, engage stakeholders, develop a plan and explore and secure more funding

Important quotes:

  • Rep. Laurie Pryor (DFL 48A) – “This committee knows that early childhood, prenatal to 3 years, is the most critical time in a person’s life. Every child has to get it right or that person is working with the results of what we didn’t get right.” 
  • “It’s important we get this right as a state. Why is it that we keep underfunding, keep missing the mark on infant care and daycare? Parents can’t afford the cost. But people providing care are underpaid. We’re subsidizing a system that’s not working.” 
  • A few representatives asked presenters about the report logistics: What is a recommended timeframe for implementation? Who is accountable? What are the next steps?
  • There was conversation about the need for a whole family approach to childcare governance. Mary Manning, an Assistant Commissioner at MDH, said the “whole family approach is important to consider because it’s a social determinant of health.” 
  • She referenced Governor Walz’s budget supports various social determinants for families and communities. 

The meeting ended with a presentation from Dr. Dan Wuori with The Hunt Institute. He talked about various governance models he has worked on with states throughout the country, with focus on Missouri, New Mexico, Delaware and North Dakota. 

He said states are moving toward creating, or have created, an office or agency to focus on the issue of early childhood education governance. He discussed pros and cons, efficiency and timelines, and various models for childhood governance. 

Dr. Wuori said some states are opting to move childcare into their department of education. Others are moving pre-K out of their education department into their Department of Human Services. Some states are consolidating pre-K with childcare. Some states are creating entirely new agencies. There is no right model, but he expressed the importance of political will and taking action on the issue, as opposed to none. 

Chair Pinto wrapped up by stating the goal of this report is to raise longterm visibility and support for early childhood governance. “We know over time this has been so deeply underfunded…an area that has not been visible in the legislative or budget process or in some administrations,” he added.

“The goal is clear enough, to me — that’s the purpose,” Rep. Pinto said. “We should build our governance around that goal of raising more visibility and support.” 

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