By Katie Burke, Public Policy Intern

Todd Otis with Public Policy Intern Katie Burke.

Hello there! You may remember me from the blog post introducing me earlier this year. My name is Katie Burke and I am in my last week at Think Small after an amazing few months as the second ever Todd Otis Public Policy Intern. I moved to Minnesota last August as part of a Fulbright Scholarship from the lovely town of St Andrews in Scotland, so it has been a whirlwind since starting here learning how to survive the Minnesota winter while also learning all there is to know about state politics and early childhood issues. I started in the first weeks of session in January, and it has really been amazing following some great early childhood bills through the legislative process from start to (almost) finish.

First day on the job and
already freezing!

My day-to-day work involves shadowing the work of the Early Childhood Committee in the Minnesota House, as well as dropping in from time to time when important bills are being heard in the Education, Jobs and HHS Committees in both the House and the Senate. I also help at the office, attending coalition discussions, policy hours, helping with logistics for advocacy trainings and Think Small’s weekly policy email updates! My background is in youth rights advocacy so this internship really broadened my horizons and allowed me to immerse myself in the issue of access to affordable high quality early education. I wanted to share with you some of my takeaways from this session, through some of the NUMBERS behind the policies.


That’s the number of bills introduced on early education this session, making us the state with the largest number anywhere in the USA! It really has been a record year for the Minnesota legislature on childcare issues, and the site of intense political debate. Being at the heart of the discussions was awe inspiring, particularly hearing testimony from passionate and dedicated child care advocates. My favorite testimony of the whole session was a young girl from Minneapolis who came to the final meeting of the House Education Committee to simply thank her legislators for all the work they had done to give her family an Early Learning Scholarship after her mom had testified earlier in the session – in the middle of a very long and intense hearing it really put a smile on everyone’s faces and reminded us all why we do this work in the first place. Being involved in child care you come to understand that it is such a dynamic and intersectional issue, affecting every part of our state. I would encourage all of us working in this field to cast our nets wider to involve everyone in these discussions – including businesses and social justice advocates – in order to build a better Minnesota. 


That’s the shortfall in the number of child care places that the Children’s Defense Fund estimates exists right now in the Twin Cities area alone. The reality is that advocacy on child care is an urgent issue in this state because family child care providers are closing their businesses at an alarming rate. Much of the work this session has been around helping child care providers remain in business long term; including proposals to modify some inspection requirements and other proposals to provide grants and tax relief. For families, the lack of availability – particularly in greater Minnesota – coupled with the skyrocketing costs of child care (averaging around $8,150 a year for an infant) is a burden. For many this means that they are unable to choose to return to work after having a child even if they had hoped to. Studies show that this issue disproportionately affects women. There is a lot more to be done to secure affordable, high quality child care in this state. I am hopeful that the changes being made this session may alleviate some of this burden, but we have a long way to go to support both providers and parents as they navigate our state’s child care crisis. 


That’s the average childcare worker’s wage in Minnesota per hour[1]. This means that early educators in our state are amongst our lowest paid workers, often living paycheck to paycheck. Over 85% of our childcare workforce is considered low wage workers, making less than $20,000 annually. All this means that we need to do more to help support those looking after our youngest, providing them with business supports and helping them as they look for opportunities to demonstrate and improve quality through programs like Parent Aware. Most of all, we need to hear provider voices in this debate. Child care providers are vital stakeholders who, more than anyone, understand the challenges facing our workforce, and what is needed for providers to be able to develop their programs and stay in the business. Let’s work to amplify their voices. 


That’s the percentage of children under 5 who receive CCAP who are children of color. In Minnesota, and across the US, the conversations happening about affordable high quality child care cannot be divorced from wider conversations about racial equity. First of all, we know that disproportionate numbers of children receiving CCAP and Early Learning Scholarships in this state are children of color. We also know that of the children eligible to receive these funds (aged under 5) an estimated 84% of them are unable to access it, largely because the system is chronically underfunded. Until we support families by truly investing in this system, we are offering low-income communities of color few options for their children to thrive in the early years. Evidence also shows that Minnesota has a worst in the nation achievement gap, which starts in a child’s early years. We need to do more now to support low-income families of color to give their kids a better future. That means investing in programs, like CCAP and Early Learning Scholarships, that we know work. 


Are the number of days we have remaining until the end of the legislative session (keeping our fingers crossed for no special sessions this time round)! This means we are in the final days of negotiation before Governor Walz has the opportunity to sign crucial early education bills into law. However, with a politically split House and Senate the goal of finding compromise through Conference Committees can often be a challenging one. Of particular concern are proposals in the Senate to freeze the CCAP program in Minnesota – they have said publically that this is simply a negotiating stance, but we need to ensure that whatever compromise is reached it helps our youngest Minnesotans! Now is the time for YOU to reach out to your legislators and remind them about the importance of prioritizing children in the upcoming days.

Katie Burke with Todd Otis and
Public Policy & Advocacy Coordinator, Marie Huey.

It has been a privilege to work for Think Small this legislative session— advocating on behalf of Minnesotan children and families. Thank you to everyone who has helped me learn about this complex issue, both within the child care advocacy community and outside of it. Your expertise has been invaluable, and your passion gives me hope for the future of children in this state. I will be living in Minnesota for the next year as I complete my Masters at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and I look forward to continuing to follow developments in child care at a state and federal level. Finally, when I return to Scotland, I hope to take what I’ve learned about child care and help to make changes at home as there are many policy parallels between the problems here in Minnesota and in my own community.   

[1]Rohrer, Amanda. Low Income Workers in Minnesota 2014