The Context: Advocacy leads to legislation

Like most states, Minnesota needed a strategy for providing high-quality early care and education to all families. They wanted a system that was equitable, affordable, and accessible to everyone. Coordinated advocacy led to bipartisan support for a law establishing The Great Start for All Minnesota Children Task Force. The legislation charged the task force with developing a comprehensive strategy and an implementation plan for putting that strategy into action.

The Goal: A system that serves the workforce and families well

The new statute provided the key intentions for the Task Force, which included:

  • Creating a system in which families can afford the cost of early care and education,
  • Ensuring that a child’s race, family income, or zip code does not determine their access to high-quality early care and education, and
  • Ensuring that Minnesota’s early childhood educators are qualified, diverse, supported, and equitably compensated, regardless of setting.

By centering equity, the end goal was to create a system that creates affordable access for families and that fairly compensates and supports the workforce.

The Approach: Thoughtful process design and facilitation 

Partnering with the Children’s Funding Project and Task Force co-chairs, Afton Partners led the newly formed Great Start for All Minnesota Children Task Force. We facilitated the development of a plan to accomplish the statewide vision that “all families have access to affordable, high-quality early care and education that enriches, nurtures, and supports children and their families.”

The Task Force included 15 voting members representing many different stakeholder groups in ECE, including:

  • Parents of children under five,
  • Center directors, family child care providers, school-, center-, and Head Start-based educators,
  • State legislators, and
  • A member of a federally recognized tribe.

There were also 22 non-voting members, including advocacy organization representatives, subject matter experts, and state agency employees.

A house diagram showing guiding principles at the foundation, with supporting concepts, plan development, and goals built on top.

We started by creating intentional guidance to support the development of strong and thoughtful recommendations. The framework above illustrates how our guiding principles and supporting processes laid the foundation for how we would engage together. From there, the Task Force and subgroup work took place, supporting the four main goals and ultimate charge.

Together, we also aligned on a shared equity lens that would:

  • Center children and families
  • Pay particular focus to the needs and priorities of historically disenfranchised children and families and their communities
  • Specifically contemplate how our decisions may benefit or harm historically disenfranchised children and families and their communities
  • Seek the expertise and input from stakeholders already doing the work in historically disenfranchised communities, and
  • Where possible, consider data that provides insight into the relative impact on historically disenfranchised children and families and their communities

The Task Force developed the main ideas and strategic priorities while two smaller working groups focused on how to bring the ideas to life by creating actionable recommendations around affordability and workforce compensation. Once finalized, those recommendations were presented to the larger Task Force for a vote. To meaningfully incorporate all voices at the table, we created voting protocols, guiding principles, ground rules, and expectations for all our meetings. While recommendations were achieved through majority vote, the Task Force processes prioritized consensus among voting and non-voting members.

When the subgroup strategic recommendations were complete, we began work on the implementation plan. We combined the strategic priorities and final recommendations from the Task Force with the legislated timelines and appropriations into an implementation matrix that designated when strategic priorities should be implemented, by who, and in what order.

The Outcomes: Actionable strategies and promising momentum

The work of the Task Force resulted in an overall strategy, a suite of actionable recommendations, and a specific action plan. Some of the key recommendations included:


  • Create a family benefits system that provides affordable access for all families. The goal would be that no family pays more than 7% of income for services.
    • This includes a new “Great Start Minnesota Program” that would not change existing federal and state funding. Instead, new funding would be added. Under this program, all families would be eligible to participate.
  • In the short term, identify and mitigate limitations of the Child Care Assistance Program and the Early Learning Scholarships program to expand family eligibility and improve affordability.
    • Expanding eligibility, reducing co-payments, increasing scholarship funding, and reducing administrative burdens would make affording child care easier for families and would increase participation.


  • Establish a mechanism to facilitate local community engagement in determining access priorities and how to meet access needs.
    • Explore policy flexibility that allows communities to create context-sensitive solutions, and provide planning support via funding and resource facilitation.
  • Create a process to continually understand, assess, and address systemic barriers.
    • Utilize parent surveys, focus groups, and collected data to analyze gaps in access and capacity constraints and identify high-leverage areas for investment.


  • Provide early childhood programs with adequate funding to deliver effective services for children and families.
    • The Task Force recommended that leaders pursue cost modeling, which would set payment rates that match the true cost of services. (Currently, what families can pay sets the rates. Instead, rates should cover the full cost of care and allow for fair workforce compensation.)
  • Institute a compensation plan that pays early care educators at least a living wage according to a defined salary scale.
    • They also recommended increasing wages to align with experience and education and including time off and health insurance as benefits in compensation packages.

See the full report for the comprehensive list of recommendations.

The state began implementation of many recommendations immediately upon the Task Force’s completion of work. In 2023, Governor Walz’s FY24-25 budget proposals included expansions and increases aligning with all areas of the Task Force’s recommendations. Ultimately, the legislature passed 19 provisions and appropriations spanning every recommendation area and Task Force goal. (A full list of Minnesota’s legislation related to children and families can be found here.) The state also launched the development of the Department for Children, Youth, and Families, as recommended. The work in Minnesota demonstrates how thoughtful and intentional process design can lead to swift action and meaningful progress.

At Afton, we put people first. Doing so results in stronger research design, more nuanced insights, and better decision-making. We are proud to come alongside communities to co-create both problem-solving processes and actionable solutions in a way that respects and engages those who stand to be most impacted. Ready to get started on yours? Get in touch.