Minnesota is Making Strides in Early Childhood

By: Nicole Smerillo, PhD

The journey of taking action to prioritize education for Minnesota’s youngest learners has been a
difficult one. While we are not yet where we hope to be, the victories of this year’s legislative session
are indicators that the tireless efforts of early care and education advocates and families in the state are
making a difference.

There are several new laws2 that will help improve wages for the early childhood workforce and serve to
attract individuals to the profession, an important factor in improving access to early education,
especially in a state where 9 of 10 school districts report being affected by a teacher shortage and
13,000 K-12 education positions are vacant.3 Among the legislative highlights is the Early Education
Wage Scale which will provide early childhood workers with wages that are more aligned with those
paid to elementary school educators—currently lead early childhood teachers in the Twin Cities Metro
make a median salary of $29,786, an abysmal number that is significantly below the $37,536 cost of
living for an individual in the Metro.4 Increased wages for early childhood workers may attract more
talent to the profession and retain workers who will be better able to subsist on their wages.

To address teacher shortages within the early childhood workforce, another highlight is the Grow Your
Own initiative, which will be expanded from K-12 to include the early childhood field. This program
provides funding for programs to help professionals obtain credentials such as a Child Development
Associate credential, an associate or bachelor’s degree in early childhood or related fields, and
licensures. According to a 2019 NAEYC report5, the early childhood workforce has expressed a
willingness to obtain credentials, coupled with a strong need for funding to do so. The Grow Your Own
Initiative begins to answer that call. It will also have the added benefit of allowing communities to raise
up early childhood workers from within, potentially increasing diversity among classroom teachers, an
important gain as BIPOC communities are significantly underrepresented within the profession.6

In addition to early childhood workforce efforts, 4,000 voluntary pre-k seats were made permanent this
year, and additional seats are planned to be added each fiscal year through 2027, with 12,360 fully
funded pre-k seats by 2027. Funds for Early Learning Scholarships will also be increased each fiscal year
further improving access for the children of Minnesota.

So, while there is still much work to be done, these new laws, among others—see the full list of 2023
“wins” for early childhood here7—have the potential to improve wages, help decrease the teacher
shortage, increase access to preschool, reduce the opportunity gap for adults in the early childhood
workforce, and make the workforce more representative of the children it serves. As a new school year
begins and we are reminded of the distance yet to be traveled in improving care and education for our
youngest learners, be encouraged, we are making progress. Progress is most often the sum of many
small steps and this year Minnesota has made several not-so-small steps.


1. NIEER The State of Preschool 2022

2. 7 New Minnesota Laws that Early Childhood Education Professionals Should Know About

3. 2023 Biennial Report: Supply and Demand of Teachers in Minnesota

4. Minnesota Cost Modeling Analysis

5. NAEYC op ed by CEO (the link to the 2019 report seems to be broken)

6. Diversifying the Educator Workforce: A guide for Minnesota Districts and Schools