By Kristen Rosenberger, Director of Advocacy and External Engagement
Nearly 35,000 children in Minnesota still do not have access to quality early learning and care opportunities. And despite temporary financial relief for child care providers from emergency federal funds, COVID-19 impacts continue to strain providers through increased costs and lost revenue, with low wages and few benefits experienced by many – jeopardizing the already-limited child care opportunities available to families.
Last week, more than 150 young children, parents, educators and advocates from across the state came together virtually for Advocacy for Children Day, to encourage legislators to prioritize our youngest children in this year’s policy decisions, share their personal experiences and celebrate the joys of learning.
The Value of High-Quality Early Learning
With each speaker sharing their favorite children’s book before remarks, this year’s virtual rally was heartwarming and thought-provoking. Greater Twin Cities United Way’s associate vice president of Community Impact, Stephannie Lewis, gave a warm welcome to all, with a reminder of how critical early childhood care and learning is for the well-being of Minnesota’s children and families.
“With 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurring by the age of five, parents need access to affordable, high-quality, culturally-relevant early care and learning for their children to thrive,” said Stephannie. “The need for change is now.”
Dr. MayKao Hang, vice president and dean at the University of St. Thomas, delivered powerful remarks on the influence our earliest childhood experiences can have on brain development and how our human value increases exponentially when we invest in early childhood measures.
“The real change that children need is all of us, everybody, to care in all our respective roles whether you have children or not,” said Dr. Hang. “We want that care to translate into policy and work that actually benefits children, families and our future.”
At the rally, metro area parent and early child care educator JaVon Williams shared the differences she saw in her daughter once she attended preschool. She also noted the value early learning opportunities have for all families.
“My children and the children I interact with on a daily basis let me know how important early childhood education is for going to kindergarten,” said JaVon. “Kids who attend preschool are sent to kindergarten with the tools they need to be successful in school… I can’t speak for everyone, but as a parent, that is one of the greatest gifts I can give my children.”
Investing in Our Future
Elected officials expressed their support for investing in early childhood opportunities, too, including Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. State Senator Carla Nelson and Representative Rena Moran also shared updates on early childhood policies and priorities moving at the Capitol.
“Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan and I have always been committed to investing in our littlest Minnesotans,” said Governor Walz. “The pandemic has only heightened this need to invest and support those younger years.”
As policy co-chair for the Start Early Funders Coalition, Allison Corrado stated while delivering closing remarks, “Minnesota is well-positioned to take significant steps forward in creating a more equitable future for our children – but we can’t wait any longer.”
“Right now, more than ever, we need to ask ourselves: What is the future we want to create for our children?” Allison prompted. “What policies and actions do we need to create the resilient and courageous community that we want our children to grow up in?”
You can watch the entire Advocacy for Children Day rally here. To learn more about the work Greater Twin Cities United Way and its partners are doing at the State Capitol to advance policies around and investments in early care and learning, visit gtcuw.org/advocacy.
Learn More and Get Involved
- Watch Governor Walz’s Advocacy for Children Day message of support
- Watch Way to Grow’s “I Love to Read” children’s message
- Tell your legislator to prioritize Minnesota’s young children this session
- Sign up for advocacy updates to join us in fueling change through advocacy