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Minnesota Education Leaders Grapple with Findings from Early-Ed. Audit

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Education leaders in Minnesota say they hope lawmakers will make some changes that will allow the state's early-learning initiatives to be more user-friendly.

This comes following the release last month of an analysis of the state's early-childhood education programs by the Office of the Legislative Auditor, a government watchdog.

The group's report notes that the state provides 42 programs for young children and their families. Most of these programs are administered by the state Departments of Education, Health, and Human Services. The analysis focused on nine of these programs and found them to be "complex and fragmented" and thus confusing for parents. For example, while many of these programs are designed for low-income families, they have different income eligibility requirements. This complexity may keep some families from taking advantage of much-needed services.

 The report also noted the lack of data related to program effectiveness and the fact that different programs have different requirements for staff qualifications.

"I don't think that we were really surprised by any of the findings or the recommendations in the report," said Hue Nguyen, an assistant commissioner with the Department of Education.

Calling for Changes

The report called on the state legislature to make changes such as aligning funding and eligibility requirements for certain programs and to consider requiring assessments for children entering kindergarten.

The report also asked the state Department of Education to make a couple of changes. Five of the nine programs the auditor evaluated are administered by that department.

The report recommended that the department work with the Departments of Health and Human Services to come up with a plan to use a universal identification number for children participating in early-childhood programs. It also asked the Department of Education to collect attendance data for these programs and data on the number of students who aren't being screened for kindergarten readiness.

Nguyen says the department will begin doing these things. She also said the department has been asking for some of the recommendations in the report such as legislative changes that would allow information sharing between the three departments.

"We do work with the same families, the same children, but we don't have the ability to share the data with one another," said Nguyen.

She says that would make things much easier for the families they serve. If eligibility requirements were aligned and the departments could share information, they could create a single application for families to complete for access to help with early-childhood education programs. This way, families wouldn't have to run from program to program and provide the same information over and over.

"Over the last seven, eight years we really have had a focus on serving as many of our children in high-quality, early-learning settings as possible, so I think that this report will help us to continue that process," said Nguyen.

The Minnesota legislature is in session now, and a working group of lawmakers is expected to meet this summer to discuss the report and its recommendations.

Image by Getty


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