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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota child care providers can now become part of a voluntary rating system designed to improve quality of day care homes and encourage better early childhood education.

The new system, dubbed Parent Aware, allows providers to undergo advanced training and become certified as three-star or four-star providers. Those who get the new rating will qualify for a boost in payments from the state's child care assistance program, which subsidizes day care for lower income families.

"We want providers to sign up for the training and to do that the Legislature and Gov. (Mark) Dayton said, 'We're going to pay them more because we think this is really important,'" Lucinda Jenson, the Commissioner of Human Services, told KARE.

To highlight the new program, Jesson paid a visit to child care provider Yeur Xiong at Y Early Learning Day Care in St. Paul on Friday. Xiong, a former elementary school teacher, has gone through Parent Aware training and earned a four-star rating.

"This little girl came to me when she was a baby and she knew her alphabet by age three and knows how to write her full name by age three," Xiong said, referring to one of the six children she provides care for at her home in the Thomas-Dale Neighborhood.

"This is so very important because we can prevent children from growing up to live in poverty, or going to jail later in life, if we get them ready for school."

One of the reasons the legislature invested $19 million in the program was to upgrade the level of education providers deliver to their young students. Many economists have argued pre-K education is an important investment because the first five years of life are the most critical years for brain development.

"We want to equip providers so these children get to learn, as these children obviously are today, their colors, their alphabet, some of the skills so that they're ready for kindergarten," Jesson remarked.

Parent Aware covers accredited child care, Head Start, school-based pre-kindergarten programs, licensed child care centers and family child care programs. Grants and assistance are available to help providers tap into the training offered through the Dept. of Human Services.

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