Minnesota Parent Aware: Rigging the Early Learning Market – Redesign or Shut it Down!

Little Girl in ClassroomMinnesota Parent Aware: Rigging the Early Learning Market – Redesign or Shut it Down!

May 1, 2019

Linda Bell

It’s now apparent that Minnesota’s Parent Aware system is not the true measure of quality ratings that our Legislature and Agencies have purported it to be.  In fact, government records show that the Parent Aware System was utilized for the purpose of setting up a monopoly for public schools, head starts and corporate chain centers.

Several years ago, Minnesota “won” the federal lottery grant for babies and toddlers. Parent Aware is part of a federal idea gone wrong. According to the Early Learning Council, a governor-appointed group:

“In 2011, Minnesota was one of nine states awarded a federal Race to the Top -Early Learning Challenge Grant (RTT-ELC). This $45 million award for 2012-2016 is designed to improve early learning and development opportunities for Minnesota’s children.”

You might remember that the Common Core was specifically tied to the Race to the Top grant, and thus, Minnesota has been busy building the Baby Common Core!

Three main projects were covered in the grant.

—–Align and Set up a systematic program state-wide

—–Parent Aware and

—–Early Learning Scholarships

Both are foundational to House File 1.

Prior to the Race to the Top grant, a Metro group of businessmen, Minnesota Early Learning Foundation, gathered $20M dollars to start a pilot program, Parent Aware for School Readiness. This was the beginning of a business plan for the Parent Aware experiment. This was not “for the children”, it was a business plan. By 2012, this pilot, Parent Aware, was utilized as the quality measurement for federal accountability for the Early Learning Challenge.

What’s been going on since 2012?  The Agencies and Legislature, through the Race to the Top grant, started Accelerated Pathways to Ratings.  It was decided that public schools, Title 1 schools, Head Starts and the corporate chain centers would have the fast-track on 3 or 4-star ratings statewide in 2012.  Just like that!  Boom! This grouping would receive 3 to 4 stars right away, which are the highest ratings.

(B)(2) Goal 1: Expand availability of accelerated ratings for accredited, Title 1 Head Start and school-based programs statewide in 2012. 

1.1: recruit targeted programs to participate in Accelerated Pathways to Rating.

1.2: provide supports as incentives for these programs to participate in Accelerated Pathways to Ratings.       

(Race to the Top: Early Learning Challenge, pg. 602)

Meanwhile, it was written into the grant that licensed home-based and small center providers would enter the slow-track of ratings starting in 2012 and the accelerated track would not fully be available statewide to these providers until 2015.   The government purposely pushed off this group from competing fully in the workplace through a slower path to ratings.

(B)(2) Goal 2: Expand the availability of the full rating for licensed center-based and licensed family child care programs incrementally starting in 2012, with statewide availability in 2015.

            1.1: recruit targeted programs to participate in the full rating option

1.2: provide supports as incentives for programs Children with High Need to participate in the full rating option

MACC has published testimony and personal stories of providers and how DHS purposely targeted those in home-based and small centers.  Between the rigged Parent Aware system and DHS targeting, home-based and small center provider numbers have been decimated.

To this day, public schools, head starts and corporate chain centers receive automatic and continuous 4 star Parent Aware ratings even when there is reported maltreatment. Maltreatment records may be viewed at the Dept. of Human Services website.

Statistics regarding childcare in Minnesota in 2012* and 2017**.

Type of Provider                    2012*                                             2017**

Home-based providers          11,000                                              7,800

Chain centers                           1,600                                              1,779

Public schools                             334                                              TBA

Head Starts                                   34                                                 134

*Data from Early Learning Council, 2013 report.

**Data from MDE.  Not all data available on public schools.

Now what about the Parent Aware ratings?

Both the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation’s and national evaluators admit that there is no way to know if quality rating systems improve child outcomes or program quality.  (See Evidence on Effectiveness of Quality Rating Systems)

“The design does not permit us to determine if Parent Aware causes outcomes for programs, parents, or children. We can look at patterns of associations, but causation cannot be determined.” (Parent Aware Third Year Review, MELF, November 2010, PowerPoint, p. 9)

Regarding implementation, according to the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation Review,

“Two-thirds of programs received automatic 4-star ratings.” (MELF, Year 3 Evaluation, p. 130,  [2/3 of the programs are getting a free pass].

 

According to a Legislative Audit in April 2018, the Office of Legislative Auditor office stated “You cannot prove the 4 star rated programs are any better than others. They do not prove quality.”  And additionally, “There are no checks and balances for any of the child care funding streams in Minnesota.”

The Parent Aware Star rating system was apparently contrived for some other reason than determining a quality program and so “misses the mark” for assisting families in what is good or not good daycare.

MACC further questions this system:

  1. For what reason was Parent Aware truly put into place if the program is not measured with any specificity and ratings are automatic 4 stars if you’re a public school, head start or big chain center? Are the scholarships related to our state Human Capital Bonds or HuCAPs?
  2. Parent Aware was evidently set up to remove competition in the early care and education market to specifically increase baby and toddler programs in schools and chain centers and, thus, push out small business providers. This sounds an awful like an Anti-Trust Violation case! How long did our Legislators think this monopoly would go unnoticed?
  3. How do these higher ratings benefit the schools, head starts and big chain centers? Recall that Early Learning Challenge was for 2 primary reasons: Parent Aware accountability system and Early Learning Scholarships. Based on the higher rating, this group receives the extra benefit of applying for Early Learning Scholarships in addition to CCAP money.  (Please see the video posted on the MACC page if you haven’t!)

Note exactly how many millions of dollars are going into the schools, head starts and chain centers annually with absolutely no accountability as to how those funds must be spent.  DHS has a guideline that these “maximized funds” must be spent on staff and curriculum, but there is no accountability, checking on receipts, nada! This is a huge amount of wasted taxpayer dollars and we have no way of knowing if the kids and families are receiving all of the monies intended.  How many millions in unused Early Learning Scholarship monies are being sent back to the providers without any accountability?

One of the foundational lynch pins of House File 1 is Parent Aware, the “federal” accountability system that has rigged the early learning market.  MACC’s hope is that House File 1 does not pass by any measure.  But we have to understand the faulty foundation. It is time to scrap the Parent Aware system for a redesign or shut it down altogether. It’s time to unleash competition back into the early learning markets once again! Parents will quickly figure out which childcare providers are the best fit for them without government holding their hands.

 

 

 

 

 

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