More support needed for early childhood read programs

Don Heinzman
Guest Editorial

At a time when early childhood readiness programs are being touted, half the children in Minnesota are not ready for kindergarten.

The Department of Education figures that 43 percent of incoming kindergarten children are proficient in language and literary skills before they start.

This year, the Minnesota Legislature is slated to spend $10 million for Early Childhood readiness education, the same it’s been since Arne Carlson was governor.

What’s needed to get more support for early childhood education is leadership, primarily from the governor.

Gov. Mark Dayton is providing that leadership. He recently signed an executive order backing an Early Childhood Advisory Council. There is no sign that the Republican Party majorities in both houses intend to allocate more money.

Early Childhood learning gets lip service from just about every legislator, but those opposed to more funding say this isn’t the year because the funds are not there.

They are not willing either to authorize more funding sources or raise taxes for the money.

Local school districts are strapped to provide more funding for early childhood learning and there isn’t a local outcry for more funding to do so.

In addition, they believe developing a rating system of early-learning opportunities is a good first step to helping parents decide where to send their children.

Most families, however, cannot afford the fees for early childhood education, and the state’s allotment is $330 per child, which is hardly enough to produce the program.

The need is there, particularly considering that Minnesota leads the nation in number of working mothers in the workforce.

Business leadership is on board the need for early childhood education, inspired by a study by Arthur Rolnick, retired senior vice president and research director for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Rolnick said then that spending on high quality education for three-and four-year-olds yields a higher return than any other public investment. He added that the study calculated the total benefit-cost ratio at $17 for every dollar spent.

While the study has attracted a lot of attention, most early school district childhood programs are trying to hold their own and hoping they’ll keep getting the same amount of money.

It is past the time for Minnesotans to demand more funding for early childhood education so all children are fully prepared to start kindergarten. Gov. Dayton’s interest in more funding is welcome.

Don Heinzman, former editor of the Star News in Elk River, is an editorial writer for ECM Publishers. His blog is posted on