Living Legend

Longtime advocate Anna Jo Haynes: Parents need to become advocates for their children

PHOTO: (Denver Post)
Anna Jo Haynes (left) and her daughter Happy in 2015.

Secretary of Education John King was in Denver on Monday to speak with educators about how the state has improved its early childhood systems statewide, and how a $45 million federal grant helped the state bolster its efforts.

Anna Jo Haynes, a long time early education advocate, was on hand as King toured the center she ran for four decades and mingled with early education leaders.

Haynes, president emeritus of the Mile High Early Learning Center and co-chair of the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, spoke with Chalkbeat after King’s visit to share her thoughts on the discussion King had with educators and other issues facing early education in Colorado.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

How has the early childhood education landscape changed since you started?

I’ve been involved for fifty years. I started as a child care health provider, then I was involved in bringing Head Start to Denver. That’s how I started.

It’s come a very long way. It was called day care, and I fought hard to say, “who takes care of days? We take care of children.” It became child care. Now we’re talking about early education, and we use that term all the time. Just in those terms you can see the difference.

I worked very closely with the Colorado Children’s Campaign at that time. My agency — and every board I ever had — not only let me, but encouraged me to be an advocate. With a nonprofit, you don’t always get that. I was able to do that because we were the largest provider of care in the city.

I stepped to the state level and got very involved with the founders of the children’s campaign. Advocacy has the been the biggest part of my life. I think we have to not only include parents but we must make sure that parents become advocates for their children, that they know they have a voice — and if they say so, it makes a huge difference.

Have you always been interested in early education? How did you figure out you were interested in it?

When I was in kindergarten, I had to go twice.

My mother dutifully walked me to kindergarten, and I walked back home. I didn’t want to be in kindergarten. I was afraid to be in kindergarten. I wasn’t ready to be in kindergarten. I stayed a second year. The teacher was smart enough to know I wasn’t ready, and my mother was smart enough to agree.

There wasn’t anything like early education or even day care in those days. I think I was bound and determined to be in this field and didn’t even realize it.

When Head Start started, as part of the war on poverty, Roy Romer — who eventually became our governor — was a senator. His wife ran a preschool and she said, can you help me bring federal dollars here so we can do something for low-income kids? That’s kind of how I started, and then went into Mile High.

[Then] we took a leap because we were the largest, and it was our obligation, we felt, to make sure that we worked in public policy, to make sure that advocacy was a large part of what we did. I’ve done that ever since.

When Secretary King asked the table what group wasn’t represented at today’s event, you and several others agreed that it was in fact parents. How could you bring them to the table?

It’s hard. Some of the parents in our low-income families are working two jobs just to survive.

We did something really interesting during the Civil Rights movement. I was the chair of the Congress of Racial Equality, and we cranked out old mimeographs — you don’t even know what that is, but it was before copy machines.

We set them out in the middle of the night, with data, about how they [black families] were not getting what the kids in the white side of town were getting. The Head Start parents didn’t even know I was doing that at night, as a volunteer.

What you have to do is think of unique ways to include parents, because they can’t do the traditional stuff. You’ve got to go out to their homes. You’ve got to have what I think are liaisons — those people who go out where the parents are, whether in it’s their church or the local laundromat, wherever. You give them statistics. We think they ought to know because they’re watching television. That’s not how they get it. They get it at church, they get it in different places.

People want to be involved with success. If they get involved, when they have a small success there is no stopping them. They realize, “I have a voice. I can say something, and somebody’s gonna pay some attention.” When they do that, they are not only better advocates for their own children, but also for everybody else’s child as well.

Is there anything else you think the state needs to focus on?

It’s a dream I’ve had forever, and it’s so great to be here because it’s coming true, and that’s building a system of early childhood. A system that parents can navigate, and it’s also a system of advocacy if you will.

I think when you put those things together, we now have a system.

How do we let people know there’s that system, that there’s access to it. Again, it’s communication to the people who will be using the service. I think that’s true in health, it’s true in education, it’s true in human services. These are all the departments where we’re looking at providing service to the people who need it the most. That’s what the state does. If we can take the system we’ve now built and make it stronger, and let parents know how to navigate that — even if parents can’t then get involved in a way like a movement or whatever, they’re gonna know their needs were met.

There’s something really special about that.

How do we make sure it continues and doesn’t just go away because now the money’s gone? The sustainability is critically important. We have to make sure we figure out a way to make sure we sustain the system that we’ve now built, because it’s a great system. It’s a wonderful system.

A new floor

Colorado’s new minimum wage means raises for child care workers and tuition increases for parents

PHOTO: Ann Schimke
Loveland's Teaching Tree Early Childhood Learning Center was one of the first two centers in the state to get a Level 5 rating in the Colorado Shines rating system.

Child care teachers and assistants absolutely deserve the raises that come from Colorado’s new minimum wage of $10.20 an hour, their bosses say, but the pay increases also mean that many providers will pass on the new expenses to tuition-paying parents already stretched thin by child care costs.

“I don’t know how much more parents can pay,” said Diane Price, who heads a nonprofit network of seven centers in Colorado Springs.

In some parts of the state, early childhood advocates also worry that the raises mandated by the minimum wage hike will cause some workers to lose public benefits by pushing their income just above the eligibility threshold — making it harder, not easier to make ends meet.

In a field working to professionalize its ranks, pay its workers more, and raise awareness about the educational and economic value of quality child care, many observers say the minimum wage increase is a step in the right direction.

“It’s an important move,” said Christi Chadwick, director of the “Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce” project at the nonprofit Early Milestones Colorado. “The thing I struggle with is we’re still not getting people out of poverty and paying them on par with the public school system.”

Price, the president and CEO of Early Connections Learning Centers, said, “Shame on us that we even have to have this discussion that early educators are in a category that pays minimum wage.”

The latest minimum wage increase, which took effect Jan. 1, is the second of four annual increases mandated by a ballot measure approved by Colorado voters in 2016. The last step of the phase-in process will boost the minimum wage to $12 in 2020.

Colorado is among 29 states — most in the northeast and west — that have set a minimum wage higher than the federal rate of $7.25 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Child care providers here say advance planning and clear communication with parents have helped them incorporate raises into their budgets.

Price, who raised tuition slightly at her centers last August, said she anticipates a budget hit of about $600,000 over the four-year phase-in period.

But that’s not just because her lowest paid staff members are getting raises to comply with the minimum wage law. Like many other child care directors, she’s giving raises across the board out of fairness to veteran employees.

Price said she didn’t want entry-level employees to catch up with those who already hav a Child Development Associate credential or an associate’s degree.

Heather Griffith, who leads the for-profit Young Peoples Learning Center in Fort Collins, is taking the same approach. Her whole staff, except two brand new employees, have received raises.

She’s already sent out a letter notifying parents that tuition will go up 6.5 percent on February 1 – that’s an additional $16 a week for a full-time preschool slot. It’s the second of three tuition hikes Griffith will institute during the minimum wage phase-in period.

While the higher costs are hard on parents, “it’s a lot tougher for these teachers to survive on non-livable wages,” Griffith said. “I’m 100 percent in support of this minimum wage hike.”

Griffith hasn’t gotten much pushback over the impending tuition increase. The thriving economy helps. Also, she said, parents like the care her centers provide and wouldn’t be able to find it for much less unless they switched to unlicensed care, which is mostly unregulated.

Anne Lance, who heads the non-profit Teaching Tree Early Childhood Learning Center in northern Colorado, said she began planning — and frontloading — wage increases for all staff shortly after the 2016 ballot measure passed.
Currently, her entry-level teaching assistants start at $10.50 an hour even though she’s only required to pay $10.20.

“I had to get way ahead of the game … so in a couple years when it gets closer to that $12, it’s not going to kill me,” said Lance, who operates one center in Loveland and one in Fort Collins.

While the center’s two sites serve many low-income children who qualify for state child care subsidies or state-funded preschool slots, there are some tuition-paying families in the mix, too.

It’s those parents who may feel the sting of the minimum wage increases over the next couple years. Lance said she’ll keep her tuition increases to a modest 3 percent this year, but may have to jump up to 5 percent in 2019 and 2020.

On average, lead teachers with several years of experience at Teaching Tree make about $13.50 an hour. While that’s above the minimum wage, it’s not much to live on for employees on their own or those who are single parents, Lance said.

In Colorado, about one-third of child care teachers qualify for some kind of public assistance to cover housing, food, health insurance, or child care costs, according to a 2017 survey of child care workers in the state.

Chadwick, of Early Milestones, said during visits last fall to the San Luis Valley and southeastern Colorado, early childhood leaders explained that some child care workers were quitting their jobs due to fears they would lose government benefits when minimum wage-related raises took effect.

To alleviate such concerns and make child care a profession that pays a living wage, more substantial raises are needed. But Chadwick and other leaders don’t expect further funding to come from a state-level effort.

Instead, they say it will be locally-funded initiatives — already underway in some Colorado communities — that pick up the slack.

“We have to pass things like mill levies and taxes that support early childhood,” said Griffith, of Young Peoples Learning Center. “We have to do it. We have to say yes to these things if what we want is a community that has educated kids ready to go into kindergarten.”

Early childhood literacy

How to make a good reader? Combine in-school tutoring with hundreds of books for toddlers and babies

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
Fourth graders at College View Elementary in Denver.

A new literacy program for children from babies to third grade will focus on tutoring students and encouraging reading at an early age as it works with 100 families in the Munger Elementary-Middle School area.

The 3-year pilot program will combine the resources of 80 volunteers, the Munger school staff, and Brilliant Detroit, a social service organization. Brilliant Detroit will house a national program called Raising a Reader, which will ensure that the families receive as many as 100 books each over the next three years to read to babies and toddlers.

“We believe the city of Detroit is turning around,” said former state Supreme Court justice Maura Corrigan, who is spearheading the program. “But we understand that Detroit cannot turn around effectively if the schools don’t turn around, and that can’t happen unless the children learn to read.”

The program is part of a state-wide push to help more children learn to read before a new state law takes effect in 2020 that will force schools to hold back third-graders who aren’t reading at grade level. This year, fewer than 10 percent of Detroit students met that grade-level threshold.

Announced today, the program launches in January and has more than $20,000 in funding.

Munger Principal Donnell Burroughs said students who received the lowest reading test scores will likely be the ones who receive tutoring.

“Here at Munger we want our students to continue to grow,” Burroughs said. “We will identify certain families and students from preschool to third grade and they’ll work with individual tutors who come into the school every day.”

Students will work with a tutor in groups of three for 40 minutes a day.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley described another benefit of the program: helping students with disabilities.

“Perhaps an unintended consequence of the work that’s happening here is we can identify developmental delays and disabilities earlier for intervention.”

Calley, whose daughter has autism, is an advocate for people with disabilities. Studies have shown that early intervention improves outcomes.  

“We still have so far to go there,” he added. “This is a reading initiative, but it’s gonna have benefits beyond reading.”

Special education has been a pressing concern for education advocates in the state. The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren issued a list of recommendations for ways to improve Detroit schools in early December. Among them was a priority to fully fund special education.

Plans to continue or expand the program are unclear, and depend on the pilot’s success. The effort is supported by 15 local and state partners, including Gov. Rick Snyder and Raising a Reader.