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Commentary: Lawmakers can seize chance to bolster child care in rural Minnesota

From the column: "Children and families in poverty tend to follow in successive generations, perpetuating the tragedies of poverty."

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Cartoonist David Fitzsimmons draws on the need for affordable childcare.
David Fitzsimmons / Cagle Cartoons
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We are writing in support of early childhood initiatives that are once again coming before the Minnesota Legislature this session.

Minnesota has a largest-ever budget surplus, in excess of $9 billion and likely still growing. There are many purposes to which Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, and leaders of the House and Senate would like to direct these funds.

There is no more important investment in the future that Minnesotans can immediately make than investing in parents and their youngest children. This investment has been chronically underfunded since the early 2000s, to the detriment of these same families. As often is the case, the burden falls heaviest on those in poverty, typically BIPOC communities and people in more remote rural locations.

Economists, including Nobel Laureate James Heckman and Minneapolis Fed Researcher Arthur Rolnick, have confirmed a 10% to 16% yearly return on such investment, with earliest returns occurring by pre-kindergarten.

Children and families in poverty tend to follow in successive generations, perpetuating the tragedies of poverty, especially an unreadiness to learn in kindergarten through 12th grade, school failure, struggles with drugs and mental health issues, unfulfilled and unsuccessful lives, and lives cut short by ill health and, too often, incarceration and its aftermath.

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Much of this can be avoided by investing in the health of young women (and young men) in regular prenatal care and in healthy nurturing and early education, especially for parents and their babies and toddlers ages 3 and younger. Parenting education (what more important information is there, and yet it is not taught in Minnesota high schools!) and quality child care are ground zero for these initiatives.

One initiative that has gained bipartisan support in the 2022 Minnesota Legislature supports child-care programs in rural Minnesota. Rep. Liz Olson of Duluth is the author of a bill (HF 3169) that would direct $10 million to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to make grants to family- and center-based child care facilities, allowing them to increase capacity or build new facilities.

During the pandemic, more than 20,000 child-care slots were lost in rural Minnesota, which compares to only 2,000 in the Twin Cities area. This puts tremendous strain on rural economies, communities, and those wishing to get back to work. This legislation is an important step in recouping the child-care slots needed for those in rural Minnesota to thrive.

Let your elected officials know that this is the time to act. Bipartisan support is not readily achieved these days, so it’s even more important to take advantage of such opportunities. Children and families can’t wait.

Dr. Dale Dobrin, of Minnetonka, Minnesota, is president of a group called Doctors for Early Childhood; Ada Alden, of Plymouth, Minnesota, is treasurer of the group, and is a licensed parent educator and graduate supervisor; Dr. Mary Meland, of Minneapolis, is the group’s secretary; and Dr. Roger Sheldon, of Golden Valley, Minnesota, is its vice president. The writers are also members of the Minnesota Academy of Pediatrics.

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Dale Dobrin
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Ada Alden
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Mary Meland

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