OUR ROOTS – THE KIDS ARE PRIORITY ONE COALITION
In 2000, Sen. Jean Ankeney introduced a bill to improve the quality and affordability of child care services. When the bill failed to get even a committee hearing, a small group of advocates and policymakers gathered in Sen. Ankeney’s barn to talk about the bill’s fate and what we could do going forward to assure greater success on policy and funding bills needed to improve the early childhood system in Vermont. They considered the feedback they had heard from legislators and administrators: If Vermont was to advance any system-wide change, the state’s early childhood community needed to be more coordinated, collaborative, and strategic.
As a result of that meeting, four child and family-focused organizations – Windham Child Care Association, Vermont Family Network (formerly, Parent to Parent of Vermont), Voices for Vermont’s Children (formerly, Vermont Children’s Forum) and the Vermont Child Care Industry and Careers Council – formed the Kids Are Priority One Coalition. The Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children and Mama Says joined the four initial organizations in staffing the Coalition in 2006 and 2007.
The Coalition’s mission was to ensure that every Vermont child gets a good start. The goal was to create an effective statewide network of well-trained advocates committed to advancing specific policy recommendations.
Over 12 years, the Coalition worked with early childhood service professionals, child care providers, parents, and employers on public education, leadership development and policy advocacy for early care, health, and education issues. An annual Policy Agenda served as a “comprehensive road map” that spelled out specific policy proposals for which there was broad support within the early childhood community.
Directed by the Policy Agenda, the Coalition was successful in securing a number of legislative wins in policy areas such as children’s health care, implementation of publicly-funded pre-kindergarten, child safely, and support for child care providers, child care quality improvements, and a child care subsidy system.
THE COALITION’S EVOLUTION TO THE VERMONT EARLY CHILDHOOD ALLIANCE
In 2012, Coalition partners and advocates, the larger early childhood community, and funders conducted a strategic planning process to evaluate the effectiveness of Vermont’s early childhood advocacy efforts. After much discussion, an effort was launched to re-structure the Coalition to better meet the needs of the broader community and respond to opportunities in the legislature to advocate on a wider range of issues.
In 2013, the Kids Are Priority One Coalition started a formal transition to become the Vermont Early Childhood Alliance. As a result of this transition, a number of key changes were made:
- The group’s issue focus was expanded beyond early care, health, and education to include safety, nutrition, and economic security.
- The Alliance’s governing body, the Steering Committee, was established and structured to include representatives from many different interest areas.
- The capacity of the Alliance’s staff and resources were more narrowly focused on the legislative vehicles (bills and budgets) and legislative advocacy.
- The process for setting the Alliance’s annual Legislative Agenda was clarified, and shifted to support lead organizations on issue development, advocacy, communications and strategy.
- The group’s decision-making processes were clarified, and the use of consensus decision was formalized.
In 2018, the Alliance took one more step in its evolution, adding the word “Advocacy” to our name, to highlight our organization’s primary strategic focus. Today, the Alliance builds on the successes of the past and continues to engage concerned Vermonters in effective legislative advocacy on early childhood issues.
The Alliance has also continued to develop an annual Legislative Agenda that brings the early childhood community together around a common set of priorities, and to sponsor Early Childhood Day at the Legislature (ECDL), both key parts of the Kids Are Priority One Coalition’s legacy.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE: ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Beginning with those individuals gathered in Sen. Ankeney’s barn many years ago, countless Vermonters have contributed to the early childhood accomplishments we celebrate today. Many actions – both great and small, taken once or many times – have cumulatively led to policy and system change that has improved the lives of Vermont’s children and families.
We admire and respect all the dedicated voices representing different sectors – in communities, centers, agencies, homes, and businesses – that have leveraged their expertise and time to ensure momentum behind the Alliance’s advocacy and education efforts.
Throughout the years, we can be thankful for a number of funders who have made our early childhood advocacy not just possible, but effective in securing change. The Alliance extends special gratitude to The Turrell Fund for its significant and ongoing investments in advocacy, policy, and services in Vermont.