We all make mistakes and the Minnesota House made a big one earlier this month. It can and must somehow resurrect a crucially important early childhood measure that was defeated, according to well-researched media reports, through the behind-the-scenes influence of just a couple of narrow interest groups.
The Quality Rating proposal would take advantage of private donations to establish a statewide evaluation and reporting system that would help parents assess and find high-quality early childhood care and education offerings for their infants and pre-schoolers. This initiative, already underway, will be of great and lasting benefit to all Minnesotans, and particularly to children of disadvantaged and middle-income parents who are most in need of this cost-effective investment. And this is investment. A growing body of research in brain architecture shows that top-quality nurturing and stimulation in the crucial years between birth and age 3 pays off enormously in education achievement and success later in life. And the proposal actually puts a premium on parental choice, typically a favorite mechanism for free-market conservatives.
Moreover, the Parent Aware system it would help expand and develop enjoys strong business leadership backing and a truly rare breadth of consensus in these polarized times. As education reporter Beth Hawkins of MinnPost assessed it, "the bill was revenue-neutral, meaning its implementation would not cost a cent, and it enjoyed the backing of (DFL Gov. Mark) Dayton, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and pretty much everyone on the political continuum between them." The author of the proposal was Rep. Jenifer Loon, an Eden Prairie Republican and a leading critic of the GOP vote to strip it was Duane Benson, executive director of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation, a former executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership and a former Republican Senate minority leader.
In Minnesota, a clear moderate and progressive majority, joined by many conservatives, essentially agrees that early childhood education is a growing public responsibility, and that the growing percentage of children showing up not ready for kindergarten _ almost half are not fully ready _ represents a real threat to our long-term prosperity.
Mainstream business owners and leaders agree that higher-quality early childhood education is essential for the long-term quality of Minnesota's workforce. And it just doesn't make policital or policy sense for the House majority caucus to continue defying that wisdom and consensus.
Dane Smith is the president of Growth & Justice, a progressive think tank committed to making Minnesota's economy simultaneously more prosperous and fair.