Lawmakers are considering the creation of a new state agency dedicated to serving Minnesota’s youngest children. House Photography file photo
Acting on a decade-old recommendation, and following nationwide trends, lawmakers are considering the creation of a new state agency dedicated to serving Minnesota’s youngest children.
Sponsored by Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), it would establish the Department of Early Childhood, effective July 1, 2023.
The bill was approved 10-3 by the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee Thursday. It now heads to the House Education Finance Committee. There is no Senate companion.
Currently, a variety of programs and services that support young children and their families are administered through three state agencies: Departments of Education, Health, and Human Services. The structure is fragmented and complicated, and there has been work locally and nationally to bring more continuity to how early childhood services are accessed and delivered, said Pinto, the committee chair.
“Our state has actually been setting this up for coming on 10 years now,” he said. “There was a 2011 report from a legislatively mandated task force that called for the creation of a dedicated agency.”
The bill aims to create a structure of continuity and efficiency by centralizing existing programs into one department. No new programs or services would be added.
“I want to make sure to emphasize that this proposal is in no way a criticism of the current people doing this work in the administration,” Pinto said. “The structure itself has some real challenges and some major disadvantages, and there are significant advantages … when you have responsibility and accountability and authority in one person and one organization.”
The new agency would operate like others, wherein the governor would appoint a commissioner, who would serve as a leader and coordinator. While there’s no fiscal note yet, Pinto estimated it would cost approximately $1 million to implement the new department, based on what other states have found.
“This really is an investment in the long term and in the future,” he said. “We are spending a lot of money in this area and we are spending that money in a pretty fragmented way.”
Both Rep. Tony Jurgens (R-Cottage Grove) and Rep. Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea) shared support for the goal of improving efficiency and streamlining programs but expressed concern that, in the long run, it would grow government.
“When government starts doing this … quite often they tend to grow and grow and grow, and turn into these monstrous things all on their own, and I’m concerned about that,” Bennett said. “I’m also concerned about the cost to transfer and doing this right now. When we’re facing a deficit, I want to make sure we’re putting as much funding as we can into programming and not into government.”
Applauding the proposal, Rep. Ami Wazlawik (DFL-White Bear Township) said it could help families in need better navigate the system and access services.
“I do think folks have some concerns,” she said. “But I think it’s a good start to the conversation about how we make sure those programs and resources for our families and our youngest Minnesotans are more accessible and easier to access.”