ECE Advocacy- Blown Away by 3-D Vision: Three Lessons from PAES, 2010
“Blown away.” That’s a pretty intense declaration. But, in fact, when it comes to my perceptions of the advocacy landscape for early childhood, I feel as though I have just put on high-def, 3-D glasses. I can see more clearly than ever. After my experience as a participant at the Partnership for Economic Success National Economic Forum on Early Childhood Investment, I feel as though for the past 25+ years in the field I have been been working with a unidimensional picture. Many of the misconceptions I had about business support for early learning initiatives have evaporated. I’m invigorated by what I’ve learned.
The Forum was replete with complex information, facts, and data presented by some of the most influential business leaders, politicians, and early learning experts in the country. The primary goal of the Forum is to offer the early learning sector the tools and information we need to develop coalitions “of business leaders advocating for increased investments in early childhood.” The sessions provided participants with the stories they need to tell, the data they need to show, and the tactics they need to use to build a movement and collation with the support of local and national businesses.
Of course, at the very foundation of the event was the fundamental message we all know and espouse: The first five years of life are the most crucial years for child development. What happens during these years impacts cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development like no other time in a child’s life. We know this. We live it. We tell the story day after day. But, the Forum shed new light (at least for me) on more compelling ways to tell the story so business leaders will join our movement and become our programmatic partners.
Because I spend most of my time thinking about engagement and communication, I see this as a communication issue. Have we been effectively spinning our stories? Are we bringing the right messages and the right people to the table with us? How can we impart our sense of urgency to legislators and to the public?
Three big takeaways from PAES:
1) There’s significant support in the business community for early learning. This was a huge surprise to me. Business leaders see early learning as a workforce issue. They know the work we do is paramount to developing good workers 15 to 20 years forward. They consider investments in early childhood “front-loading” costs because the investment results in higher returns down the line. Smart business leaders know that paying for high-quality early learning programs results in more well-rounded, prepared workers. They also embrace the research that high-quality programs result in lower rates of incarceration, which saves money “downline.”
There’s nothing to fear from approaching businesses for public and legislative support or programmatic partnerships. The business leaders who presented at PAES were aware of the urgency for support for early learning. Using the powerful detailed and comprehensive communication tools provided by the Partnership, advocates can and should start building support now. In their toolkit, the partnership has put together everything except the moxie you need to start talking with business leaders in your community. You supply the moxie.
2) Strengthen your advocacy position by keeping business leaders by your side. We all know our congressional leaders have heard our stories and our appeals for legislation before. We’re very good at crafting stories about the impact our programs have on the lives of families and children, and we know enough to bring parents and/or children with us to provide personal testimonials about the impact our programs have on their lives. But, congressional leaders must put the budget and the economy at the forefront of every appeal for legislation and funding. If we have any hope of breaking through to connect with legislators, we have to use the “3-D version” of the story and bring reinforcements with us. Armed with great tools like those provided by the Partnership, and a business representative from your community, you can offer a more crystallized and well-rounded story that speaks volumes.
3) We must put aside our differences to come together with a common voice and look for incremental “wins.” Differences? In the early care and learning community? Really? Yes. We’ve heard them all play out when it comes to funding at the local AND national level. We debate: Quality vs. Care for All, Pre-K vs. Child Care vs. Head Start (and on and on.) The patchwork of programs and state implementation has created a natural breeding ground for controversy. It’s natural that we all argue as we clamor for the hard-to-come-by dollars and legislation. It’s time to set those differences aside, and come together with a common voice to show the economic value and impact of high-quality early childhood programs.
There is a narrow window of time in the US right now. The national spotlight is starting to shine on our sector. We need to speak with one voice on a local, state, and national level and set our sights on smaller, more incremental expectations.
Things to do right now:
- Go to the PAES website.
- As per the directions of Rob Dugger, the PAES Advisory Board Chair, “scour the site,” and download the materials in the Communications Toolkit section.
- Integrate them into your advocacy and communications arsenal.
- Share them with your colleagues.
- Join the email list.
- Plan to attend the monthly Invest in Kids Working Group meetings.
- Read the PAES plan and decide where you and your organization fit.
- Read and commit to the Telluride Standards, which are the PAES roadmap for building a national movement for investing in children.
Leave a comment for me! Let me know what you think, especially if you attended the conference.
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