Early childhood education advocates push for more funding

The Children's Defense Fund of Minnesota is urging political leaders to dedicate more funding for early childhood programs in the state.

The group released its 2017 legislative priorities on Tuesday, along with a study highlighting the effectiveness of interventions that target preschoolers.

A funding boost would give more kids access to early childhood education and development programs said Stephanie Hogenson, the group's research and policy director.

"We need significant investment to ensure that all children have access to programs that support healthy development in early childhood," said Hogenson, "because we know those investments have significant returns."

The group's goals also include legislation requiring paid family and medical leave, more funding for child care, increases to family tax credits and a boost to the Minnesota Family Investment Program.

The report cites disparities in the state between people of color and whites, which start at an early age. The number of children in Fourth Grade who scored below proficient in reading last year ranged from 84 percent of black children to 53 percent of white children, according to data from the Department of Education.

But Hogenson said early childhood programs have been proven to help close some of those gaps.

"Our demographics in our state are shifting, about one out of every three young children are children of color in our state, and that's growing more and more," said Hogenson. "We need to make those investments now, so our future workforce is prepared and our economic situation can be prosperous into the future."

During a forum that followed the presentation childcare advocate Phyllis Sloan said she sees students who are stuck on waiting lists for early childhood programs.

"What a shame that is," said Sloan, executive director of La Creche Early Childhood Centers. "If they're not prepared, they're certainly at a loss — and it is not a helpful start."

Children's Defense Fund of Minnesota staff will present their findings at stops planned across the state throughout the fall and winter.

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