Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’ Cradle to K initiative took another significant step forward on May 18 when the cabinet she created released their final report summarizing the plan that will give young minority children opportunities to bridge the educational, health and economic disparity gap that exists in the city today. This disparity is especially felt on the Northside.
The report is the culmination of feedback gleaned from over 200 meetings the Mayor and the cabinet had with parents and community members. The cabinet was composed of 26 members who were experts in their field and came from a wide spectrum of private and governmental domains. Their professional recommendations form the basic foundation of the report to implement expanding early childhood screening opportunities, make low income housing more obtainable, improve health benefits and increase availability of quality childcare. The plan encompasses the basic requirements for creating a safe, healthy and enriched environment that gives children (from birth to three years old) a jump start on preparing them for grade school and beyond.
The initiative is comprised of three goals that form the basis of the plan to bridge the disparity gap.
The first goal is to prepare young children for early childhood education by offering early screening to see where children lag developmentally so intervention can take place; and to provide mental health services by trained professionals for children who have or are experiencing trauma and to support language development. This goal is the foundation for future educational success because once areas of delay or health issues are identified, then effective early intervention can occur.
The second goal is to give young children stability by ensuring they have a permanent home. This goal can be problematic because it will require building new affordable housing for homeless families. To alleviate the housing shortage for families at risk, the cabinet recommended that 10 new housing units be created by the end of 2016. In addition, funds will be made available to help subsidize rental properties.
The third goal is the centerpiece of the plan — offering quality early childhood education that is culturally specific for children of the community in which they live. To make this possible for all children at risk in Minneapolis, childcare slots need to be expanded and funding made accessible for low income families. A research study found that one-third of the children who were identified as developmentally delayed or diagnosed with health conditions, and were then given early intervention, did not require special education by the time they reached second or third grade. This data is significant for the support of early education for children at risk and the positive impact that early intervention has on those children.
But the plan comes at a cost, and that cost is still to be determined. The Mayor and the cabinet will be collaborating with community and business leaders to create an implementation plan to identify which part of the plan needs new funding and which does not.
Hodges said, “With the release of our final Cradle to K report we are sending a clear message to every child in the City of Minneapolis that we are committed to equity and to their success…Our youngest children are counting on us now, so now is the time for us to get to work. All of us will benefit when all of them succeed.”
The ultimate goal of Cradle to K is to make early education and intervention available for all children from birth to age 3 regardless of their race, family income or where they live. While this plan may not reach all children, it is a first step toward making an impact in a positive way on those that can be reached. As Nelson Mandala said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”