For the benefit of Minnesota’s littlest learners, Gov. Mark Dayton wisely did what the Legislature failed to do: The governor continued and expanded the Parent Aware preschool child-care rating system.
Parent Aware was developed during a six-year pilot project of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation that will end later this year. With $20 million in private funds, the business-led foundation created four pilot programs for students from lower-income families.
As a result, parents had better information on quality programs, providers learned how to improve and students showed significant gains in school readiness.
During the prolonged 2011 session, lawmakers didn’t include the ratings system in the final education bills. But Dayton did, by executive order. The program is expected to cost about $2 million, mostly in federal funds.
The research is clear on the value of quality early education: For every dollar spent on a preschooler, up to $10 comes back to society in lower costs for social services, policing, courts and corrections.
When kids are well-educated, they are more likely to become contributing taxpayers -- not dependents upon the system.
Despite the demonstrable benefits, the ratings system has critics. Opponents say that it expands state bureaucracy, and some argue that educating preschoolers should be left to parents.
But government, through public education, has a compelling interest in seeing that children do well in school. In addition, the Parent Aware program is completely voluntary for families and child care providers.
Expanding the ratings system is an important step toward improving child care and early education in Minnesota. That’s critical in a state where an estimated half of all children arrive at kindergarten without some of the basic skills they need.
Now the governor and Legislature should take the next step and require that any state funds spent on child care go only to highly rated programs.
— Star Tribune of Minneapolis