scholarships will help prepare at-risk kids for kindergarten
Civic CaucusFocus on CompetitivenessInterview February 8, 2013
Dave Broden, Frank Forsberg, Paul Gilje (coordinator), Randy Johnson,
Paul Olson, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter. By phone: Audrey
Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Sallie Kemper.
Frank Forsberg is Senior Vice President of
Systems Change and Innovation at Greater Twin Cities United Way. He
oversees impact planning, public policy government relations and
external engagement. He came to United Way in December 1999, after 10
years with Catholic Charities, where he was administrator of the
Advocacy and Outreach Division. He began his career with six years of
volunteer service in Pueblo, Colorado.
Forsberg is chair of the Executive Committee
a statewide campaign to significantly increase state funding to
improve access to quality early childhood care and education in
Minnesota. Supported by a broad base of organizations and thought
leaders, Minneminds aims to make the state's youngest children its
most pressing priority and most important investment.
Forsberg also serves on the board of the
which offers comprehensive academic and social supports to children in
St. Paul's Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods, and is chair
of the board of the
Minneapolis Northside Achievement Zone,
which has a $28 million federal grant to support its work to end
multi-generational poverty in North Minneapolis.
Forsberg earned a bachelor's degree in
business from St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and a
master's degree in public administration from Hamline University in
Half the children in Minnesota are not ready to learn when they enter
kindergarten, according to Frank Forsberg of Greater Twin Cities
United Way. United Way and other groups advocate funding scholarships
for low-income families to send their three- and four-year-old
children to high quality early childhood programs as the best way to
prepare at-risk children for kindergarten. He estimates it would take
$300 million per biennium to fully fund the scholarship program for
all low-income three- and four-year-olds in the state. Governor Mark
Dayton has proposed funding of $50 million for the scholarship program
in his FY2014-FY2015 budget. Expanding a quality rating system
statewide is a high priority so parents will have reliable information
to help them choose the best child care/early education programs for
their children. Allowing parents to choose the best program for their
children will bring about system reform, Forsberg says, because the
programs will have to compete to offer the highest quality. The
state's teachers union backs all-day kindergarten, which competes for
funding with the preschool scholarship program. However, Forsberg says
research shows that quality preschool education is more effective in
preparing kids for success than all-day kindergarten.
Greater Twin Cities United Way raises
approximately $90 million in donations per year, making it the second
largest United Way in the country.
Historically, Frank Forsberg said, United
Way was in the business of raising money efficiently and then giving
the funds to its member agencies. "That has been a losing proposition
over the last decade," he said.
As a result, United Way is now in business
to address the most pressing issues and then ask people to donate to
work on the most important issues. "We invest money in the
best-performing nonprofits," he said. The organization also narrowed
its community goals from 25 to 10. Getting all children fully ready
for kindergarten is one of those goals.
Half the kids in Minnesota are not fully
ready when they enter kindergarten.
Forsberg asserted, "If
United Way invests $5 million annually in early learning programs,
that helps 5,000 kids. That leaves 20,000 kids yearly who are entering
kindergarten not fully ready. That's a long way from our ability to
impact the problem through traditional grant making. We're a long way
from our goal. That's what has United Way and other philanthropic
organizations engaging in new ideas around systems alignment, systems
efficiencies and periodically influencing public policy."
An example of systems alignment is
Generation Next, a new collaborative focused on closing the
achievement gap by aligning current efforts. "We're program rich in
the Twin Cities and systems poor," Forsberg explained. "We have
500-plus initiatives to close the achievement gap and they're not
integrated, organized or coordinated."
"In a period of long-term structural
deficits at all levels of government, we can't build new strategies in
old ways and with new money and new infrastructure," he continued. "In
the future, we must prioritize and align resources with programs that
have measurable, proven results."
Minnesota has a rich history of promoting
early education programs for at-risk children.
Jim Ranier, former chairman and CEO of Honeywell International,
led United Way's effort in the '80s and '90s to create the Success
By 6 collaborative in Minneapolis and to take it nationwide.
Currently, 350 United Ways across the country run Success By 6
Art Rolnick, former research director at the Federal Reserve
Bank of Minneapolis, released important research approximately 10
years ago that showed a 16-to-one return on investments in quality
preschool education for disadvantaged kids. "He put this issue front
and center," Forsberg said.
The business community created MELF (the Minnesota Early
Learning Foundation) seven years ago. Forsberg said it accomplished
two things in its five-year existence. (It sunsetted, as planned, at
the end of 2011.)
Parent Aware Quality Rating System
. It built a quality
rating system, called Parent Aware, for early childhood care and
education. The system is in place in the metro area and is
. It pilot-tested scholarships as a way to
engage parents and allow them to make the choice about where to
send their children to preschool and child care, as long as the
program is rated as high quality. "This is system change," he
said. Forsberg compared the preschool scholarship approach to the
higher education system, where public dollars follow low-income
students to various institutions through means such as Pell
An early childhood funder coalition realized
that by themselves, they could not fund their way out of the problem.
Halfway through the MELF effort, United Way and others in the
philanthropic community including The Minneapolis Foundation,
Sheltering Arms Foundation, the McKnight Foundation and approximately
15 other philanthropic organizations, launched the Start Early Funders
Coalition. Forsberg said the needs for increasing funding in early
childhood are about $300 million per biennium, which would provide
enough funding so all low-income three- and four-year-olds could get
scholarships for early education.
But the 20 philanthropic organizations
together only contribute $20 million a year to the effort. "Even if we
doubled our commitment, we could only get $40 million and none of us
thought we could double our contributions," he said. The group
realized they were not going to fund their way out of this. They
decided to try to use their political and social capital and to try to
bring about a sequential set of policy steps.
Their first order of business was leadership, he
said. The funders coalition worked to establish a cabinet-level
state office of early learning. They didn't quite succeed, but they
did get a senior position for early childhood in the state
Department of Education a year ago. Karen Cadigan, who comes from
the early childhood program at the University of Minnesota, holds
the position and reports to Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda
Cassellius. "This sets the stage for a potential cabinet-level
office for early learning," Forsberg said. "Don't be surprised if we
push for that in 2014."
Accountability and Measurement.
As a second step, the
funders group put together a Federal Race to the Top proposal and
got $45 million to take the Parent Aware quality rating system
statewide. "We're one year into that," he reported.
During the summer of 2012, the Start Early
Funders Coalition and early learning advocates joined forces and
launched the MinneMinds Campaign. The campaign is requesting funding
for early learning scholarships for all low-income three- and
four-year-olds in Minnesota.
Gov. Mark Dayton's budget has a line item of
$50 million for scholarships for three- and four-year-olds for the
The scholarship program is targeted to families
at 185 percent of the poverty level or lower. He said fully funding
the scholarship program would cost $300 million over two years, but
"it's the first time in decades that the Governor has made an
investment like this in early learning."
In response to a question about limiting the
scholarships to low-income families, Forsberg said it's best to target
the program where it will have the greatest return. "We get a better
return if we invest in lower-income kids, who are at higher risk," he
Early childhood education scholarships are
competing with other education priorities, such as all-day
An interviewer commented that if we assume the
state's education budget is not going to grow, early childhood
programs are competing for the same pool of dollars as other education
needs. Forsberg responded that business leaders see the scholarship
program as high priority, but believe funding for scholarships could
come out of any existing funds, not only out of the education budget.
MinneMinds leaders have talked with
Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union.
He said Education Minnesota is supporting
the funding of all-day kindergarten statewide. Forsberg said the
Governor's budget has proposed fully funding all-day kindergarten,
which is a more expensive proposition over time than scholarships for
three and four year-olds.
Forsberg pointed out that Rob Grunewald
looked at the available research and found that the value of the
benefits from early childhood programs will outweigh all-day
kindergarten. "If we must prioritize, we must do so by objective
research," Forsberg said.
An interviewer asked if there are educators
who are allies in the push for early childhood learning. He said
teachers feel blamed for low performance by kids who aren't ready to
learn when they start kindergarten. He hopes teachers would be saying:
If you make early childhood education available and have kids coming
to school ready to learn, then you can evaluate us. He said he wishes
unions would look at the long view: If education fails, no one will
want to fund it.
Forsberg replied that MinneMinds is trying
to build a broad coalition in the education area and pointed out that
the Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association, the Minnesota
Community Education Association and the Minnesota Head Start
Association are some of the partners in MinneMinds.
In response to a question, Forsberg said the
early learning scholarships would be parent-directed scholarships that
offer parents choice and create market incentives. "It's a bit of a
systems reform initiative," he said. "Early learning programs will
have to show parents they produce the best results; they'll have to
Parents' role in the early years is critical
to their children's development.
An interviewer commented
that research shows a high value for parents speaking to their kids.
Children growing up in middle-class and upper-income households hear a
lot more words from ages 0 to 3, particularly from 0 to 1, than the
low-income group. "Correlations are so high and the cost is so low,"
he said. "Are we missing a trick by trying to go for scholarships for
early childhood education, as opposed to scholarships to have
volunteers work with parents to teach them how to talk to their
children. There might be more bang for the buck."
"All of us who work in early childhood
believe the parent role at home is vital," Forsberg responded. "United
Way funds 25 programs and preschools and every one of them has a
parent engagement program. It's a core requirement."
Research shows that 90 percent of brain
development occurs by age five, he continued. It ties significantly to
the parents' role. Investment in scholarships is vital; kids learn a
lot of social skills in this environment. Also, 80 percent of mothers
in our state work; we have the highest engagement of working moms in
the country. Society must support the decision to have women and
mothers in the workforce by providing high quality and accessible
early care and learning.
Business and community leaders support the
statewide expansion of the Parent Aware rating system.
Forsberg said the independent nonprofit organization PASR (Parent
Aware for School Readiness), which Minnesota business and community
leaders formed in 2012, supports the statewide expansion of the Parent
Aware rating system. Parent Aware is a free one-to-four-star quality
rating system for child care and early learning providers that
measures best practices, identified by research, that help children
succeed in kindergarten and beyond. The state Department of Human
Services leads Parent Aware, in coordination with the state Department
of Education and Child Care Aware. Parent Aware is also supported by a
unique partnership with community leaders through several
organizations, including Greater Twin Cities United Way.
Minnesota needs a system of early childhood
education that works statewide.
An interviewer commented that
the number of quality rated early learning programs is not yet
adequate statewide. Forsberg responded that home-based care needs to
get licensed and rated, childcare centers must improve their quality
and get rated, and the network of school-based programs, church-based
preschools and Head Start must also be rated over time. That requires
an investment in their training curriculum and quality infrastructure.
With the Race to the Top funding the state is doing that and United
Way has invested $3 million to get 350 childcare centers in the metro
area up and rated.
"We need a broad and nimble system that
works in Greater Minnesota, as well as in the metro area," he said.
School readiness programs and Head Start operate in Greater Minnesota
and must be a big part of the equation. They are the biggest drivers
in their communities, because smaller communities often don't have
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
David Broden, Janis Clay, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje,
Jan Hively, Dan Loritz (Chair), Marina Lyon, Joe Mansky,
Tim McDonald, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and