A recent commentary (“Vouchers are wrong for preschool,” Feb. 19) made this central point: “Giving parents assistance to access quality early-education services in the private market while also ensuring that there is a public option for families who prefer it should not be controversial.”
The MinneMinds coalition wholeheartedly agrees, and that’s precisely what the Early Learning Scholarships we support do. Scholarships can be used at school-based programs. But scholarships also can be used at high-quality early-education programs operating out of centers, churches, nonprofit organizations and homes — many of which are located in low-income areas.
Scholarships are a both/and solution.
The commentary also said “child care and other early-learning opportunities can be out of reach for reasons of geography, funding or scheduling. No one program does it all.” Again, we wholeheartedly agree. That’s why scholarships are such a vital option for low-income families across Minnesota. The coalition empowers parents to pick the program that best meets their children’s and families’ needs, choosing whether to use the scholarship at a high-quality program based in a school, church, nonprofit or for-profit center, or at home.
The commentary was critical of for-profit early-education options being part of MinneMinds, but that’s just one sector of organizations that make up the coalition. Any organization is free to participate in the coalition, and we are proud to have multilocation child care programs involved, because they make up one of the high-quality early-education options low-income parents can choose for their children.
The commentary failed to note that the coalition also has representation from programs based in schools, Head Starts, churches, nonprofit organizations and homes. Parents can choose to use scholarships in any of these locations; the scholarship model lets parents decide what is best for their children.
Similarly, the commentary also criticized the fact that the business community is part of the coalition. We’re also very proud of their involvement, because businesses also need to be part of this discussion. Sometimes the business community agrees with the coalition; sometimes it doesn’t.
But to give readers complete context, the vast majority of coalition members are from the public and nonprofit sector, from communities of color and from Greater Minnesota. A member list is available at www.minneminds.org.
The bottom line? The MinneMinds coalition is hardly anti-school. MinneMinds believes public schools are an essential provider of high-quality early learning. Indeed, nearly half of children accessing quality early education through scholarships choose a school-based program. However, through research and successful examples like the Northside Achievement Zone, the White Earth Transformation Zone and the other two transformation zones, we’ve learned that the most successful early-childhood models are built around a system that promotes access to a wide variety of high-quality providers so that low-income families can choose programs that meet their diverse needs.
As has been the case for many years now, the coalition supports parent choice, giving them the option to use scholarships at a public-school-based early-education program of their choosing. It also supports expanding funding for the school readiness program, which has been used to fund school-based early-education programs.
However, we fundamentally believe that all 0- to 5-year-old low-income children should have access to high-quality early-education programs before we start funding programs for wealthier families. A funding bill that proposes approximately 90 percent of new funds be directed toward nontargeted programming, and no new funding for bipartisan-supported early-learning scholarships for the more than 15,000 children facing the opportunity gap of no access to high-quality early learning, is out-of-balance.
Focusing support and investments to the most at-risk students should be the priority.
Frank Forsberg is chair of the MinneMinds coalition and a senior vice president for the Greater Twin Cities United Way.