State supplemental funding for Early Head Start has allowed Families First Minnesota to address common barriers to comprehensive early childhood educational services—center locations, teacher salaries and retention, transportation, and flexibility—to meet community needs. NHSA spoke with Families First Minnesota Head Start and Early Head Start Director Sandy Simar to learn how Minnesota’s state supplemental funding impacts her program.
Almost 10 percent of Families First Minnesota’s $9 million budget is provided through the state supplemental funding. Minnesota’s funding formula is based on the program’s share of federal dollars, including child care partnerships, as well as the community’s unmet need.
“It is important for all families, especially those most in need, to access high quality early care and education for their children for OUR future success,” said Simar. “Our State Statute ensures adherence to Head Start regulations and standards as well as funding at the federal cost per child. Through a partnership with the Jeremiah Program, we serve 40 Early Head Start and five Head Start children in center classrooms located within the housing complex.”
Many of the Jeremiah families have experienced barriers in life, which have prevented them from meeting their educational and occupational goals. Serving these Head Start families through state supplemental funding allows Families First Minnesota to support them while the program simultaneously serves children with a wide range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
“This is a huge equity issue. When there is talk of ‘universal,’ I hear everyone gets the same instead of understanding that those who may need more, get more,” said Simar. “Funds should be utilized in a targeted way to address the comprehensive needs of children and families in their state who have the greatest needs.”
State funding in Minnesota has also had a significant impact on staff salaries and retention. By using various funding sources, administrative costs may be spread across the grants, allowing for increased operational funding. As a result, Families First Minnesota is able to pay teachers similarly to district programs and reduce turnover.
“Currently, there are only two openings in a staff of 128 people.”
Blending and layering state funds is maximized to serve children and families most in need. Families First Minnesota is able to provide transportation to families who may otherwise not be able to access services. According to Simar, lack of transportation has created huge enrollment and equity barriers.
“For many programs, parents are able to drive their children to and from centers, but then we have to ask ourselves: are we serving the population that may be in greatest need?”
Child Care Development Block Grant funding is used to extend the day and stabilize child care costs. In addition, state early learning scholarships are used to provide full day summer programs for Head Start children entering kindergarten who did not meet spring benchmarks. Summer programs have lower teacher-to-child ratios to ensure they get the needed support before they enter kindergarten.
Flexibility has been crucial for Families First Minnesota to adapt to the immediate needs of their community, specifically increased infant and toddler slots. Through federal funding, the program is able to convert Head Start to Early Head Start slots, but requires time for the federal approval process. State funding is also flexible enough to immediately pivot money to serve more infants and toddlers. Further, funding may be used to meet the federal match requirement.
“We are responsible to the community and families we serve; to be a voice for them. It has an impact on state relationships.”
Due to the relationships she helped to build, Simar was asked to co-chair Governor’s Great Start for All Minnesota Children Task Force. Through the Task Force, Simar is able to ensure Early Head Start and Head Start are represented in the state system. For Simar, this provides an opportunity to look at the whole system and ensure families have access to affordable early education and care and that staff are compensated and supported throughout the whole mixed delivery system.
“If truly committed to addressing the achievement or opportunity gap in your state, then providing funding for Head Start programs to serve more at-risk, eligible population would be a definitive way to address the issues.”