Governor’s Budget Proposal

Last week we shared insight into one of Minnesota legislature’s top priorities :: Early-Childhood funding.  More information continues to emerge and Governor Dayton is clear on making this happen.  He is investing in Minnesota student’s and proposing half of his budget to go directly to schools.

The budget includes a plan for free pre-kindergarten starting in 2017. The governor’s pre-kindergarten proposal represents just one of several early childhood priorities that he has put forth to serve children in their earliest years, including child care through Basic Sliding Fee and Head Start. The Governor’s proposal uses a multi-pronged approach aimed at helping Minnesota children to start off in stable environments and serving the diverse needs of Minnesota’s families.

The budget also addresses higher education funding; seeking to improve the Minnesota State Grant financial aid program, and a two year continuance of the tuition freeze at the University of Minnesota.

See the following link for further information on the governor’s proposed budget:

Post contributed by Amy Borden.

TED Talk :: Every Kid Needs a Champion

I love a good TED Talk™. The beauty of having a spare 10 minutes, combined with mobile technology, is that I can learn something new while waiting for who-knows-what, during some evening downtime, or when anticipating a mix and mingle event where it’s helpful to have a discussion topic up my sleeve.

The Achievement Gap is a hot topic. When we talk, we can all agree that there is not one formula for success, but there are two constants: kids and teachers.

Rita Pierson, a teacher for 40 years, delivered a dynamic TED Talk™ that was a rousing call to educators to believe in their students and actually connect with them on a real, human, personal level.

Pierson addresses the impact that teachers can have on kids who have a champion and the impact of academic success, retention rates, self-image and self-confidence. The earlier that kids have a champion accelerates the educational achievement of all children, from early childhood through early career.

TED Talk: Every Kid Needs a Champion

In the words of Rita Pierson:

“Teaching and learning should bring joy. How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion? Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”

Championing kids goes far beyond teachers in the classroom. Aren’t we all teachers? Could we all be that adult who should never give up on a child? Whether our interaction with kids is daily (as a parent or classroom teacher), weekly (as a mentor or volunteer) or ad-hoc (Helping Hands, anyone?), we can positively impact kids through encouragement and support.

Perhaps having just one Champion, one bit of encouragement, can make the difference in a child’s life to help them become the best that they can be.   That is an idea worth spreading.

Post contributed by Merris Greiber.

Advocacy and Action Nationally – Early Counts in St. Petersburg, Florida

This Christmas I was telling my dad about the work we’re doing through the Junior League of Minneapolis and specifically in Advocacy.  (Not really) to my surprise, he was very well educated on the achievement gap and had a ton to share with me.

His closest peer at work is Chair/Chief Volunteer Office for their local YMCA in Florida.  In the past 2-3 years, their organization has kickstarted a campaign, Early Counts, geared toward early-childhood development and kindergarten readiness.  The goals of this program are to improve academic success, increase post-secondary attendance, lower crime rates, etc.  Sound familiar?

Earlier today, I had a great conversation with my dad’s peer to learn more about Early Counts and the work they are doing.  Many of their insights mirror those we have seen in Minnesota –

• By age 5, 90% of a child’s brain structure is developed – meaning family and community environment play a critical role in that development.

• Voluntary Prekindergarten Education programs aren’t always accessible or financially viable for families, making them unattractive.

Since the implementation of Early Counts, they have opened two early-childhood schools in the community for children aged 2-5.  One of their schools was donated to them and results so far have been outstanding.  At the start of the year, 38% of students were considered kindergarten ready and now that number is up to 83% after just one year.  In addition, 81% of students enrolled receive scholarship money through the YMCA or government ELC programs, making education affordable.

Since joining the JLM, I’ve learned a lot about the Achievement Gap, specifically in Minnesota and the Twin Cities.  But it’s important to remind ourselves this is a national issue as well, and there are some great things being done nationally to close it.  It’s this kind of work that keeps me continuously engaged and excited about advocacy and demonstrates that every action counts.

If you’re interested, below are some additional resources on Early Counts.

Early Counts Official Website –

Early Counts Video –

Post contributed by Carrie Curtis.

Advocacy Book Recommendation :: How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

At first I was intrigued by a writer who has contributed articles on education, child development and poverty and then went on to write a book – How Children Succeed.  I believe there are many steps that can be taken to help our children align themselves to success, but Paul Tough argues that character, perseverance, curiosity, optimism, and self-control are the qualities that matter most in the measurement of achieving success. I personally believe these character skills can be nurtured early on and throughout a child’s life.

By page 20 of Paul Tough’s book I realized that the JLM’s Backpack Buddies program’s first benefit is providing nutrition over the weekend. Then I realized by providing this food, we are alleviating a poverty associated stress which is a hindrance of success. This continued aid may lead to hope and optimism with our backpack buddies.

I encourage you to read How to Succeed to see what ideas, notions and possible JLM projects can be envisioned for the future of our community. In addition, here is an article from The Economist on the book.

Post contributed by Renee Evanstad.

Project Development Reflects On Generation Next

The Junior League of Minneapolis’ (JLM) Project Development committee (PD) is tasked with developing ideas for future League projects that aim to eliminate many of the underlying causes of the achievement gap. We took time at our October committee meeting to reflect on Mayor R.T. Rybak’s comments from the September JLM General Membership Meeting on how Generation Next, a coalition of civic, business and education leaders, which aims to close the achievement and opportunity gaps for students of color in the Twin Cities, also working toward this goal. We had a lot of thoughts around how the work the League is currently doing and how the new projects PD is brainstorming align with Generation Next’s goals.
The committee took away that our current League projects strongly align with Generation Next’s goals of: 1) Kindergarten Readiness, 2) 3rd grade literary achievement and 3) 100% High School Graduation. We felt that a project like Backpack Buddies sets kids up for success, as it’s hard to focus on reading or math when you’re hungry. Between The Lines encourages reading and promotes a love for books. While, H.O.M.E.S. emphasizes math and science while engaging families in creating learning environments in the home.
Our team then considered where the League could still do more work and brainstormed several ideas and questions:

  • What if we tried to have additional literacy projects that have a broader reach? Perhaps we could create a program that could reach out to parents and equip them with the tools to prepare their children for kindergarten?
  • Should we try to further address another goal like improving graduation rates?

And we had some broader thoughts about the nature of PD’s work:

  • How do we even begin to study what the problem might be in order to see how we could fit into the solution?
  • When we identify a community need, how do we create engaging and meaningful JLM shifts around it?

These are the types of ideas and questions that the PD group is asking. We plan to use this connection with Generation Next to help us make guided decisions to maximize the fantastic resources our organization shepherds each year.

Minnesota’s Latest Test Scores

Minnesota has released the latest test scores and many experts are calling them less than stellar.  Scores show reading levels remain flat and they show a wide gap between white students and students of color.


Reading and Math proficiency of Minnesota students – 2012 assessment results

• American Indian: Math 38.5%, reading 55.9%
• Asian: Math 59.4%, reading67.3%
• Black: Math 32.6%, reading 52.7%
• Hispanic: Math 38.2%, reading 53.9%
• White: Math 68.4%, Reading 81.9%

For more on the story and links to audio clips head to Minnesota Public Radio.

Achievement Gap Determined by Location?

Location, location, location…where students live is a determining factor in education success.  A recent report from 24/7 Wall St. analyzed Census data from 2006 through 2010 for each of the more than 10,000 unified school districts in the U.S. and found that wealth appears to have an out-sized effect on education at a local level.

Read more about the findings and see a list of the 10 riches and poorest school districts here.

Get to Know the Achievement Gap

The achievement gap is defined as the observed disparity on a number of educational measures between the performance of groups of students, especially groups defined by gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Measures include standardized test scores, grade point average, dropout rates and college enrollment and completion rates.

Research into the causes of gaps in student achievement between low-income minority students and middle-income white students has been ongoing since the publication of the report, “Equality of Educational Opportunity” (more widely known as the Coleman Report), commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education in 1966. That research suggests that both in-school factors and home/community factors impact the academic achievement of students and contribute to the gap.

Minnesota’s achievement gap among the demographic groups described above is one of the largest in the nation– Minneapolis’ achievement gap is the largest in the state.

The National Assessment of Academic Progress (NAEP) scores, released November 1, 2011, show that little progress is being made in closing Minnesota’s gap. Additional data can be found at

  • 4th Grade Math – students who were eligible for free/reduced-price school lunch had an average score that was 23 points lower than students who were not eligible. This performance gap is three points wider than it was in 1996 (20 points).
  • 8th Grade Math – students who were eligible for free/reduced-price lunch had an average score that was 27 points lower than students who were not eligible. This performance gap is nine points wider than it was in 1996 (18 points).
  • 4th Grade Reading – students who were eligible for free/reduced-price school lunch had an average score that was 28 points lower than students who were not eligible. This performance gap is not significantly different from 1998 (30 points).
  • 8th Grade Reading – students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch had an average score that was 21points lower than student who were not eligible. This performance gap is not significantly different from 1998 (23 points).