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 Response Page - Duane Benson  Interview - Education    

These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Duane Benson Interview of 07/10/08,

The questions:

_9.3 average___ On a scale of (0) strong disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) strong
agreement, relative to other education investments, should investment in
preparing at-risk children for kindergarten be increased,?

_4.5 average___ On a scale of (0) strong disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) strong
agreement, should early-childhood education take place primarily within the
public school system?

Vici Oshiro (10) (5)
Wait and see what MELF develops.

Donald H. Anderson (10) (10)
If public money is involved it should be in the public school system.

Ed Dirkswager (10) (0)
It is crucial that this not be seen as within the public school system--read the districts. Must include charter schools and other providers.

John Adams (10) (4)

John Hottinger (10) (3)
Without question, investments in early childhood care and education is the public investment with the highest return in public value. The possibilities for brain development during the first five years of life are incredible and to let children stagnant during that time is tragic. Supporters of early childhood investment range from some key business leaders through law enforcement and health officials through educators and, despite what Duane said, through labor organizations, which currently work actively for funding of early childhood programs. Of course they also work to raise wages of sadly underfunded staff who are the architects of the quality we need, but virtually all observers agree that should be one of the goals.

It must be made clear that early childhood quality programs include child care – it is not just a warehousing mechanism for middle-class parents to store their kids while they are at work.

Art Rolnick’s concept of focusing funding on grants-in-aid for low income families is an excellent one and part of what MELF is testing. There is no efficient system now and change needs to take place focused on the children’s and families’ needs with a more flexible funding stream. In order for that to work – and the investment to reach its potential – we need a permanent funding source, probably imbedded in the Constitution. Business support for such an idea could make it a reality.

The states where the biggest successes are apparent like New Jersey, Illinois, Oklahoma and others have had the boost of a Governor willing to take the lead. Unfortunately, Governor Pawlenty has not chosen to do that here so it is good that Duane is talking to other potential candidates, as are a number of us who are actively engaged in this debate. Many of the Democrats mentioned for Governor are already leaders in the area and there are also some Republicans who have taken a firm positive stand.

Early childhood opportunities should be available in a wide variety of settings that provide quality: schools, businesses for employees, faith-based, community driven, for-profits, non-profits. The test should be quality services, period. The quality rating system is an excellent concept to give parents an objective guide to allow them to make quality choices.

All of this is an academic exercise without the commitment to a funding source which is consistent and sufficient. Because of the vagaries of the legislative process and the inability of changing legislatures to make unwavering commitments, whatever that source is needs to be protected by constitutional amendment. I hope MELF also contributes some suggestions in that area. System improvement is certainly necessary to maximize the value of the opportunity and to build public confidence in the vast potential, but the financial commitment has to follow.

The Legislature has to get its act together also. I headed the Senate Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division my last three years at the Capitol; the House had no committee. For the last two years, the House had a committee and the Senate eliminated its Committee. It’s pretty obvious that if Minnesota is going to give this issue the priority it not only deserves but we need, both Houses have to have distinct committees to deal with these issues!

I could go on and on……….The federal mantra is wrong. It’s not no child left behind, it should be No Child Starts Behind!

Robert A. Freeman (9) (8)
I serve on the MN Chamber of Commerce's Education Policy Committee and we have been studying the issue of early childhood education (ECE) in some detail. Art Rolnick and others have made a good business case that increasing funding for ECE can be seen as a good investment, with more than a tenfold return - most of this money coming back in the form of savings in the criminal justice system as these kids are less likely to commit crimes in later life.

There are several caveats - this logic only applies to the poorest children, with diminishing returns as family incomes rise. Most of the gains are probably from the social and parenting skills taught in these programs, rather than the education of the children itself, which makes intuitive sense, as the poorest parents are least able to afford to spend this time with their children. And all ECE programs are not created equal - some show little gains and are little more than babysitting services.

The Chamber's Ed Policy committee has also tried to examine whether it would make more sense to spend this huge sum of money upfront in ECE, or further down the line, in high school tutoring, or subsidizing college etc. Rolnick thought it did - although we still had concerns that much of the gains seen in first years of school after ECE fade away, probably as a result of a sub-par K-12 system. It is my recommendation based on this that we increase funding solely for evidence-based ECE programs (perhaps based on a grant process) that are means-tested and continue to pursue aggressive reforms in the K-12 system to ensure this investment is not wasted. I also think MELF is a great program and should be supported.

A good expert in this general area not mentioned in the email below is Dr. Joe Nathan, of the Humphrey's Center for School Change, who has been in the midst of several education reforms over the years.

Final note - I think Benson's suggestion about limiting campaign donations to donors in the same district would disenfranchise Republicans in blue districts/states, and vice versa, and would likely be unconstitutional.

Wayne Jennings (10) (3)
Like former Sen. Jerry Hughes, I believe we must invest in prenatal and early childhood programs. He said if we had $5 to spend on education, he would spend $3 of it on early childhood. We'd end up spending far less later on remediation and incarceration.

Good research like High Scope and Betty Hart/Todd Risley (Everyday Experiences of Young American Children and Alison et al (The Scientist in the Crib) sheds great information and clues about the importance and direction of early ed and its powerful yields.

I'd be reluctant to turn it over to conventional educators. They don't keep up with research and have made a bureaucratic, hegemonic(not to mention expensive) mishmash of their k-12 programs with attendant weak (and, too often, harmful) results for most children. For example, when K-12 people run preschool they often fall for drill and kill skill programs that do more harm than good for most kids.

Paul Hauge (10) (5)
It's good to see that the Caucus continues its interest in early childhood development- keep it up.

Alan Miller (10) (10)
The dividend paid by effective early-childhood education are incredible and well worth the cost. Art Rolnick says it pays 12-1 in the future.

Charles Lutz (10) (7)

Chris Brazelton (8) (6)
The return on investment is significant. The need for freedom of choice and alternatives is somewhat at odds with the need for standardization and meeting common goals.
The rating system, if properly managed, may be able to transcend this and maintain the diverse range of service providers. Any program for at risk youth needs to be welcoming to the client base, accessible, culturally competent and user-friendly.

Bill Frenzel (7) (3)
1. As long as confined to at-risk children, narrowly confined, OK, but let's creep before we stand up and fall down.

2. I really don't know enough to be messing up your survey, but I have the feeling that if it is sited in public schools, it will become a program for everybody, not just the at-risk kids.

W. D. (Bill) Hamm (4) (0)
One of the key issues here is the definition used for the arbitrary term "At risk" coupled with the arrogant assumption that "poor" people are unable to teach these things to their children. Due to the education establishments arrogant misapplication of these concepts the affect can result in an undermining of family rather than a reinforcement.

Since this has primarily been done by "Head Start" and this organization underwent a federal takeover restructuring a few years back, I have serious trust issues as psychological goals seem to have taken precedence over educational goals. It's all about local control and input as opposed to imposed arrogance.

Tom Swain (10) (2)

David Broden (10) (0)
When the risk to related to ensuring that the children of the future can move thru K-12 and beyond and become contributing citizens and job holders the early childhood investments seems to be a low risk pay-off opportunity. As Duane Benson outlined the need is very complex with multiple at risk communities each with perhaps some unique community and learning as well as family issues--yet all of the communities with early childhood deficiencies have a common need a can benefit from a common goal and uniform processes across the state as long as we allow some tailoring for areas or groups. Avoiding the parochial boxes is however an absolute need or failure is assured by fragmentation of issues. It seems to me that part of the issue as expressed by Duane is jobs for the parents--thus working thru the relationship of child care and early childhood education--how these connect and yet are separate goals must be part of the plan and the implementation-each is at risk to fail if they are not linked correctly. I also feel that the funding and administration should be as expressed by outside of the education system since this whole issue gets to quality of life--opportunity for parents and children--and how the state is integrating immigrants as well as applying the same resources to families in needed etc who have been here and simple do not have the opportunity. The idea--now mostly gone that many companies considered in the 70's and 80's was preschool and child care in the workplace--while this may be history the concept still makes some sense--any recent thoughts on this idea?

The early childhood scope and problem is much different than that of K-12 in that it is an effort in my view to provide the children a sense of values and community and to link that to the family and the community in which they live. The education system is a structured parochial world which will likely put the task in a "stove pipe" atmosphere and try to solve it alone rather than as a community--family--peers--and work environment--education will benefit by the success of the early childhood being independent and will not have the burden of another management and education level. I also see that the "people who implement the early childhood are broader in many ways than just teacher they are "life style" and "value added" individuals who understand how the early childhood environment will shape the individual and a future student and citizen as well as the parents and others in the community.

Lyall Schwarzkopf (9) (7)
For years I have proposed that we need to get at-risk children out of their homes for a long as possible and into a learning situation. I believe we should be working with 3 year olds in the public school system. No one knows how to fix the dysfunctional family, so we need to try to save the children by getting them out of their home situation.

Ray Schmitz (10) (5)
My concern is that this program, however admirable in intent, addresses the symptom not the problem. Why are these children at risk, low income in many instances could be resolved by supporting the parents thru education and training, age of parents, we know that the best indicator of failure of parenting is the age of the parent, but what are we doing about the teens who are getting pregnant, are they ignored to focus on the children. Have we made a decision to write off another generation of kids in hopes of reaching the next? We have locked up entire cohorts of black males in prison, someday a sociologist will look at this period, and perhaps compare it to the decimation of the males in WW 1 in Europe, and the impact on their counties. I was involved in abuse prevention efforts in the 70's and 80's that were not funded because we could not prove outcomes, they also focused on early intervention, parenting training, and the other recognized methods of addressing the problem. This appears to look to the parents to make choices, are they really going to do that, that is, are the parents who are the major problem going to do that. Would we be better to pay living wages and allow parents to be involved with their kids, the best intentions in the world fail when both parents are gone from home when the children are awake.

Al Quie (10) (0)
It would be a disaster if the prenatal to K were turned over to the failed K-12 system.

Bob Brown (10) (5)
1. There has to be some integration of current government programs for pre-school age kids. Specifically, Head Start (which is a welfare program) and ECFE (which is an educational program should be merged into one rational program. ECFE is too often seen as a program for the middle class who know how to play the system and Head Start was supposed to be for the purpose of readiness for those who are not prepared for school.

2. I think the most important element is something like the "Career Teacher" program that Jerry Hughes got going on a pilot basis several years ago. This really was similar to what the Business Roundtable discussed in it's 9 components of a successful school - every child must have an advocate who sticks with the family for a number years until the child and family are passed on to another advocate. I wrote the response of the National Education Leaders Consortium to the BRT proposal and this was one area in which all were in agreement. For those disadvantaged families I think this is the only way to level the playing field to provide truly informed choice – and it can challenge and upset the “silo” system that exists in the human service and education agencies.

3. On a completely unrelated topic, while I wholeheartedly agree with Duane that it would be great to have campaign contributions limited to the candidates home districts, I would point out that there were times in the past when lobbying groups controlled the funding of the caucus campaign committees so that is nothing new. In the mid 70s Ernie Lindstrom and I took control of the GOP caucus fundraising away from the lobbyists and we did not apply any litmus test (except party endorsement in the general election) to any candidate we supported. Unless we can legally adopt Duane’s suggestion, or other suggestions I have made in the past, we will see and ebb and flow of the influence of special interests on caucus campaign expenditures.

Richard McGuire (10) (6)

Don Fraser (10) (5)
The use of quality controls is essential. Then the difference in who provides the early childhood education becomes less important. But the larger question (unanswered still) is whether quality pre-school will be available to all children or only to some children. A sliding fee system may be appropriate here, making wider use of pre-school available to all families (affluent parents already pay for quality pre-school). I am a strong advocate of the age 3 grade 3 (PK3) school - especially in high poverty areas. This might argue for public sponsorship of preschool, but PK3 schools may be achievable using a mix of private pre-school and public primary schools. We should examine closely the experience of the many states that are far ahead of Minnesota in providing state funded pre-school for their children. (A sad note - Minnesota used to be a leader in early childhood matters - we were the first state to initiate parent education- ECFE - but now we're way behind).

Carolyn Ring (10) (3)
We are members of Hope Presbyterian Church in Richfield which has sponsored a pre-school at Oliver Church at 26th and Bloomington in the Phillips neighborhood for 21 years. Our daughter, Linda Haugen, has directed it for 17 years and it is staffed by well trained volunteers. The ratio of teachers to students is 5 to 1 or less. The children are Native- American, Black, Hispanic, Hmong, Caucasion etc. and are from low income/poverty homes. The children are completely prepared for kindergarten and also have learned social skills, behavioral skills, and have had the opportunity to interact with
other children and adults. The parents are involved in many ways. We have a "Mothers Club" which teaches money management, parental skills and offers other counseling. Because it is sponsored by our church, both the school and Mothers Club includes Bible study. I don't know if MERF or any governmental agency is aware of the school, except that it is approved by the state and inspected regularly by it. I do know those of us involved in it know the tremendous results and are 100% supportive of early childhood education and preparation for kindergarten among minority and other children from low income homes.

Clarence Shallbetter (8) (2)

Donna Schmidt (8) (0)
Prices for everything has gone up, it is just a fact of life that the cost for maintaining the current programs will be going up

I am a true believer in private education, home schooling and also getting private foundations or private groups to fund preschool and after-school programs along with working with current government programs and preschool programs. Some of the best programs have been in local churches and local community groups. The closer to home the better. Some of the best programs may be just an hour or two enrichment program in music or phy-ed that is offered weekly. This should also go hand-in-hand with local groups, such as boy scouts, girl scouts, 4H, many of those programs are starting to offer something for those kids not yet in school.

Ray Ayotte (8) (8)
Interesting perspective from Duane Benson. I look forward to reading future papers on this topic.

Pam Ellison (10) (10)
I agree wholeheartedly and supported this concept when I ran for Governor in 2006. It makes sense to enfold this into the current K-12 system with the ability to opt out, if parents are confident and desire to keep their children home until kindergarten. Most parents who are confident and educated themselves without financial hurdles, feel they would rather keep their children home until enrolling for kindergarten and I believe that is a choice that should be allowed, however, it may be a good idea to have all children regardless of situation to be tested for kindergarten readiness at 4-5 years old, to make certain there are no learning disabilities or speech/language issues. Sometimes even very astute parents miss a weakness that an Early Childhood professional might detect with an evaluation.

A suggestion I would have is to make certain that all new parents are given MELF information before they leave they hospital or better yet, have a representative familiar with the program visit personally and deliver the information and explain the benefits of the program to their family and make certain they know how to get connected.

An online system that parents can access is great, but I can tell you from experience, having worked at Arlington High School for the past nine years that most low income parents do not own computers, nor do they understand how to use computers. Perhaps this is how the public school system can be helpful by offering parents to be trained in how to use a computer and make them aware of other programs their public school system provides to assist them with keeping track of how their child is doing in their work, grades and to track any possible truancy issues. In Saint Paul Public Schools we
provide a "Parent Portal" system online that helps parents track all pertinent information and allows them to communicate directly by email with each of their student's teachers.

Teaching reading readiness to the child is great, but it will fall on its face if it is not partnered with a companion program to help parents that are functionally illiterate, and/or who lack confidence in their reading level and skills. This is a HUGE problem in the United States with our literacy rates plummeting yearly. Parents who DO start reading to their infants and continue in a reading routine, generally also take their children to the public libraries but they are confident readers themselves. We need to also help parents that are struggling to get basic skills training, and why not extend that through our public schools? We need to start allowing parents who need extra help to be present in elementary classrooms to review basic reading, writing and math skills to help improve their lives if they choose to do so. This would also encourage parent involvement in the classroom as volunteers, with the benefit of them re-learning or strengthening their skills that will allow them to break the cycle of poverty and prepare them for more education to be able to get better employment opportunities.

Another way to integrate and streamline public education would be to make early childhood education integrated with a daycare in the Elementary Schools. With declining enrollments causing schools to consolidate and close, we need to be mindful that we may be able to weather the financial crunch of enrollment cycles by making certain that daycare/early childhood education is covered under the student capitation of K-12 education. Those who have challenges to find safe and affordable daycare, particularly single parents would benefit highly. If an added cost from the parent would help to subsidize the costs, or if there would be a 50/50 split of the cost between the parent and the school district to provide this benefit, the parent could pick up their children at the same location, cutting down on driving an additional place to pick up their daycare aged child, and providing more quality time in the evening for the families.

I strongly agree with Mr. Benson that part of the reason the education system is overtaxed and under funded is due to the high percentage of need in the urban core, due to high poverty and language issues with the immigrant populations. Health and Human Services has been stripped bare due to overreaching reforms in Welfare programs, and there are few services available temporarily for families in crisis, unless they are single parent households. Due to this shift in services, the schools have been forced to focus on social services in addition to provide nutrition through meals on a grander scale and all of this takes time away from learning. A hungry child that is homeless cannot learn because their basic needs are not being met. Example: Maslov's Hierarchy of Need.

And finally, we cannot innovate education and provide cutting edge education, if we are bogged down with the above. Again, when I ran for Governor in 2006, innovating education was one of my big issues, and I stated that the government moves too slow and remakes public education with every new State Executive change, with nothing constant and stable, we do not have the time to innovate like we should. My daughter works at Capella University and I suggested to her that the way for Capella to grow in new markets, they should consider providing the online component for gifted and accelerated learners and make it available in the 6-12 public education system by contracting with the state to provide it at no cost to students who wish to participate. The State would need to fully fund it, but it would completely innovate education in Minnesota and beyond if Capella could be the vendor. Online learning is a natural progression to PSEO(Post
Secondary Education Options) for high school students. If students can get a jump on college for free through PSEO, they will graduate from college sooner and be motivated to work hard on their own, and the schools keep their funding by offering online education through the individual high schools much like they currently offer PSEO for Juniors and Seniors.

My last idea that I wish to share with the caucus was one of my key issues that I supported in my campaign and that was to offer public school to our children at times that make sense for their families. One of the reasons parents in the urban core do not participate as volunteers, is that many times the parents are working two part time jobs to make ends meet. In addition, they work when their kids are in bed, and sometimes have little contact with parents whose shifts do not mesh with the other parent and the children. We pay to light heat and cool the buildings year round, why not offer staggered shifts for students, and employ more teachers at different times of the day to meet the needs of the schedules of those who struggle with several jobs at competing times. Let's try to make it easier on these parents rather than more difficult. In fact each school district may only need a pilot program for each stage of K-12 education. One Elementary school, one middle school and one high school per district that would offer this. It would also eliminate a big problem in families, where kids are taking care of siblings while their parents work, sometimes overnight, there are no parents home, and this poses a safety problem for children and families where this is mandatory. When students become responsible to parent, their studies suffer, because they cannot handle it all. Transportation could not be provided for other shifts than traditional day hours and parents would need to drop off and pick up their children as an added responsibility to choose a shift that coincides with theirs.

Thanks for listening. I didn't mean to make this an edict, but I work in education and ran a home daycare business for five years, so I am pretty well aware of the challenges.

Larry Schluter (10) (5)

I am not sure where the education should take place as often there are other problems within the children and families that need additional attention.



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.

   Verne C. Johnson, chair;  Lee Canning,  Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel, 
Paul Gilje,  Jim Hetland,  John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  Wayne Popham  and  John Rollwagen.  

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
8301 Creekside Circle #920,   Bloomington, MN 55437.
Verne C. Johnson, chair, 952-835-4549,       Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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