Child care rating expansion proposed

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Parent Aware, a child care and early childhood program quality rating system now being piloted, could become permanent and expand statewide.

Child care providers in four areas of the state voluntarily participate in the four-star rating system, which provides consumer information to parents about the quality of some of their child care options. HF669, sponsored by Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) would authorize the Education Department to issue a request for proposals to continue the system, but doesn’t specify an appropriation amount.

The House Education Finance Committee laid the bill over March 16 for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill. Sen. Geoff Michel (R-Edina) sponsors a companion, SF331, which awaits action by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

The bill would also provide scholarships to certain families earning equal to or less than 47 percent of the median state income. That’s roughly $40,000 for a family of four, according to Laurie Davis, policy director for the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation. The scholarship would be $4,000 a year for each eligible child and could be used at a three- or four-star rated program.

Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) said many child care providers in her district view the rating system as creating a perception there are two classes of child care facilities and don’t think government resources should be spent on it.

Karen Effrem, a board member of Education Liberty Watch, said the best environment for children is in a two-parent family and that funds are better spent in K-12.

“This is not an attempt to have the program take over parenting responsibilities for young children. It is for parents who want to, or have to because of their economic circumstances, go out to work and they want a certain enriching environment for their child to be in while they have to be away,” Loon said.

Rep. Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin) said high-quality child care programs have been shown to help increase low-income parents’ earning power by 30 percent and to help parents improve their parenting skills.