Annual Children & Youth Issues Briefing Brings a Packed House

January 13, 2014

Last week, the annual Children & Youth Issues Briefing attracted hundreds of stakeholders, educators, commissioners, and student leaders to St. Paul. Attendees brought a palpable energy to the event, exuding energy around both the progress as well as the educational issues presenting themselves here and nationwide.

Generation Next represented itself in full, from Frank Forsberg’s presiding over the ceremony to our live Tweeting from the event while in the audience. The event spanned a vast range of issues, successes, and challenges; below is a very brief recap of a few of the event’s many highlights.

For a more of-the-moment and play-by-play account, please see our live Twitter feed from the event at


State Office of Early Learning, Melvin Carter III, Director

  • This year, Carter shared a great success that can be celebrated: MN 4th graders outscored all other kids for all states in math. Additionally, Carter highlighted areas where continued efforts are highly relevant and essential: advancing towards all-day kindergarten, investigating early learning scholarships, parent-aware expansion, tired reimbursement (to provide economic incentives for child care services), and expanding home visiting.

Minnesota Children’s Cabinet

The Cabinet’s mission is that all Minnesota children are healthy, safe, supported, and prepared to achieve their full potential. Brenda Casellius, Edward Ehlinger, and Cindy Jesson presented on a variety of topics and shed light on the dynamics involved in each. Here’s a brief synopsis:

  • Addressing generational poverty, mental health, and early learning scholarships are top three priorities.
  • Public health contributes significantly to the above priorities. Tobacco use, social determinants (stable housing, safety in neighborhoods, nutrition), infant mortality are all areas to focus efforts in order to achieve the top priorities outlined by the Cabinet.
  • Effectively assessing mental health needs is essential. Without early action, a lack of care in this area can lead to emotional and developmental delays.
  • A lack of support for teen parents needs to be addressed. It is a deeply intergenerational challenge, as 75% of our teens that are on welfare are the daughter of a mother who was on the same program. This intergenerational poverty is a serious issue. Home visits that help parents learn how to parent can help address this need, as well as ensuring these children are first in line for quality child care.
  • One of the biggest challenges to assuaging the issue arises from the fact that poverty is on the rise, as evident through free and reduced lunch. This issue is closely tied to the minimum wage dialogue. Future work forces are at risk if we don’t address the ability for children to live in families that can support them. The narrative then must shift from individualism to community/village-based approaches. In the words of Paul Wellstone, “We all do better when we all do better.”
  • The Homeless Youth Act highlights a success story that highlights the necessity for getting in front of legislators to ensure they understand the issues at hand.

Emerging Program and Policy Initiatives

Representatives from MinneMinds Coalition, Ignite Afterschool, Minnesota Youth council, MN Council of Nonprofits, and the Senate explained. Here are a few brief highlights of their presentation:

  • Barbara milon from MinneMinds Coalition discussed expanding access to affordable early childhood education. The reality is that a family of four with a household income of $23,000 simply cannot afford to pay for quality pre-kindergarten attention.
  • Kari Denissen Cunnien of Ignite Afterschool presented a case for the importance of after school programming. Filling this discretionary time — 2,000 hours a year for children, on average — is key. It improves educational outcomes and goes into a deeper and different dimension of learning than happens during the regular school day hours.
  • Aimee Vue from the Minnesota Youth Council is currently advising the MN state legislature as an official committee member. Youth need to be at the decision-making table.
  • Christina Wessel of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits discussed the successes and challenges of health care and the Affordable Care Act. While MNSure has had its challenges, it is an important step forward and is working diligently to improve and progress.
  • Senator Patricia Torres Rey highlighted the synergy that happens when organizations and advocates decide to act together. At the capitol, 2013 saw lobbying power with a consistent and cohesive message. As a result, we need to elect people who put children as priorities and who are not afraid to spend their political capital doing so. Unfortunately, the number of kids in poverty is up to 65%. In order for minimum wage to be able to support families, it needs to be at least $14.32. However, right now, we are arguing about $9 per hour. This creates a serious problem.

Panel Discussion

Lastly, a panel of students led by University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler candidly discussed the nuances involved in working towards educational progress. Both humorous and insightful, candid and sensitive, students’ perspectives shed considerable light onto the nuances of how education can work — and how it can fail.

  • There is a desire and need for teachers to teach from a non-Eurocentric perspective.
  • Different ways of learning need to be addressed. The achievement gap is still present, so to continue without change will not bring about progress.
  • Beyond the classroom, learning is equally important to its in-classroom counterpart. After school, students commented on how their brains are engaged in different and perhaps even more powerful ways. “Longer classroom hours, then, may not be the best answer,” said the panel of students.
  • Mentors are a key part of ensuring success for marginalized or at-risk individuals.
  • Teachers who simply want students to pass should be encouraged that this isn’t enough. “We don’t want to pass with a D, we want to pass with an A,” said one of the students.

SIF 2015