This isn’t just the season for holiday shopping. Now that Election Day has passed, it’s also a great time for advocates to reach out to policymakers – including the newly elected officials who will be sworn in next month — and make the case for prioritizing birth-through-third-grade learning.
“Start now and lay a foundation,” Amy O’Leary, the director of our Early Education for All Campaign, said at a post-election strategy meeting that Strategies for Children (SFC) held on Tuesday. Attended by 30 local leaders in early education and care, the meeting took place at the Nurtury Learning Lab in Jamaica Plain.
What to Say: Crafting a Message
Write to local leaders — or call, email, and Tweet. Congratulate them on winning their elections, O’Leary advised, and encourage them to focus on expanding and improving education for the commonwealth’s youngest children.
Learn what your policymakers do and don’t know. Sometimes advocacy can be as simple as sharing unacceptably low rates of third grade reading proficiency in your community, and explaining how high-quality early education can help close this achievement gap.
Remind policymakers that workforce development is a huge issue, since a critical component of high-quality early education programs is having high-quality teachers. And retaining these teachers will mean paying them higher salaries.
Encourage your policymakers to keep up with the Joneses by explaining what other cities and states are doing. Boston, New York City, and San Antonio, as well as Georgia, Michigan, and Oklahoma all have preschool programs that are generating momentum and serving as national models.
Share local success stories. At the strategy meeting, Kelly Kulsrud, SFC’s director of reading proficiency, highlighted Holyoke and Springfield, two members of the Massachusetts Third Grade Reading Proficiency Learning Network.
In Springfield, a crisis turned into an opportunity when a private early education and care provider serving 380 children closed unexpectedly, and the city of Springfield responded by buying the building to help ensure that the space would continue to be used for early education programs.
To boost outcomes for its children, Holyoke launched HELI (the Holyoke Early Literacy Initiative), a community-based approach to promoting literacy that won a Gateway Cities Innovation Award from the nonprofit think tank MassINC.
Whom to Contact: Long-timers and Newcomers
In Massachusetts, Governor-elect Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor-elect Karyn Polito have extensive experience in state government. Baker served as the secretary of health and human services and later on as secretary of administration and finance. And Polito was a state representative for a decade. But both are new to the jobs they’ll hold in January, so it’s a great time to reach out and talk to them.
As we’ve written, Baker has a transition team in place, and he’s begun appointing cabinet members. So reach out to these leaders. They include:
Jay Ash who is slated to be the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development
Matthew Beaton, slated as Secretary of Energy and Environmental affairs
Kristin Lepore, slated as Secretary of Administration and Finance, and
Mary Lou Sudders, who is slated to be Secretary of Health and Human Services
The Massachusetts Legislature will also have a mix of new faces, familiar faces, and long-timers in new jobs.
State Senator Stanley Rosenberg, an early education and care supporter who has been in the Legislature since 1986, is likely to become Senate president.
And Massachusetts will also have five new state senators and 19 new state representatives.
Advocacy on Budgets and Bills
Last month, as the Boston Globe reported, Governor Patrick announced 9C cuts to help balance an expected shortfall in the state budget. These cuts could add up to a $329 million drop in state funding. As a result, campaigning for funding increases could be tough. Nonetheless, advocates should be aware of the Budget calendar and of opportunities to call on policymakers to grow the state’s investment in its youngest children.
Late February, 2015: Baker will file his fiscal year 2016 budget
April, 2015: House of Representatives files its budget
May, 2015: Senate Files its budget
June, 2015: Conference Committee debates budget
July, 2015: Governor signs budget into law
Looking ahead to 2016, expect to see legislative hearings held for filed bills — a great chance for advocates to testify.
Upcoming Events and Stocking Stuffers
Use word-of-mouth and social media to share the birth-through-eight news with your policymakers, constituents, and communities.
For example, next week, at a national summit on early education, President Obama will announce the winners of federal early childhood grants.
In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh’s Universal Pre-Kindergarten Advisory Committee is expected to release its recommendations in the coming weeks.
Or give your elected official — and their staff members — the gift of Timothy Bartik’s terrific book, “From Preschool to Prosperity: The Economic Payoff to Early Childhood Education.” Wrap the paperback in holiday paper and a bow, or just send a cheerful holiday email with a link to a free download of the book.
Speaking up early and often is a crucial way to keep birth-through-eight learning at the front of city, state, and national policy agendas. So please, plan your approach now. Touch base with the policymakers you know, and start building relationships with those you don’t know.
“The season of advocacy is upon us,” says O’Leary. “We hope you can take part in these exciting advocacy opportunities on behalf of young children and families. Thank you for your leadership and continued support.”