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, including:
– STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS): Implementing STARS by allowing existing funds to be directed to quality bonuses for providers (2003)
– Children’s Health Care: Reducing premiums on Dr. Dynasaur health care coverage for low income Vermont children (2007)
– Pre-Kindergarten: Securing the passage of Act 62, Vermont’s first publicly funded prekindergarten law (2007); and, Act 38, which removed the cap on the number of children served (2011)
– Early Childhood System: Restoring cuts to the Building Bright Futures (BBF) Regional Councils and their partnerships (2008); Securing the passage of Act 104, establishing the BBF State Council as the state’s early childhood advisory council with a charge to coordinate service delivery across the state (2010); Ensuring maintenance of BBF funding (2011)
– Child Care Assistance: Securing investments and positive policy changes to the state’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program (2008)
– Workforce Development: Securing a significant one time investment into the Workforce Education and Training Fund, dedicated to the professional development of the early childhood and afterschool workforce (2012)
– Child Safety: Securing an investment into expanding child care licensing staff (2012)
– Budget: Preventing cuts to services essential to young children and families (annually: 2003 – 2012)
– State Infrastructure: Supporting the creation of the Child Development Division within the Department for Children and Families as part of the Reorganization of the Agency of Human Services to ensure better coordination and delivery of early childhood services.
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 during an 18-month period, as the new entity evolved. These changes include:
– 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.
Today, the Alliance builds on the successes of the past and continues to engage concerned Vermonters in effective legislative advocacy on early childhood issues, achieving the following results:
– Pre-Kindergarten: Securing the passage of Act 166, providing universal access to 3, 4 and 5 year olds to pre-qualified pre-kindergarten programs (2014)
– Child Safety: Supporting the passage of S.9, the child protection bill, which improves the way the state works to prevent abuse and neglect (2014)
– Workforce Development: Securing a significant investment into quality improvement through the STep Ahead Recognition System or STARS (2013, 2014)
– Child Care Funding: Securing investments and policy changes to the state’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program (2013, 2014)
– Budget: Securing investments and preventing cuts to essential early childhood services and programs (2013 – 2015); minimizing cuts to funding for the Vermont Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, Early Education Initiative and Reach Up (2015)
– Early Childhood Financing: Supported the establishment of the Blue Ribbon Commission, to explore financing of high quality child care (2015)
– Economic Security: Securing the passage of H.187 in the House (to be introduced into the Senate in 2016), ensuring paid sick days to Vermont workers (2015)
ANNUAL EVENTS: THE CONTINUATION OF OLD TRADITIONS AND THE BEGINNING OF NEW ONES
The Alliance has continued to develop an annual Legislative Agenda that brings the early childhood community together around a common set of priorities and guides Alliance capacity during the legislative session.
The Alliance has continued to sponsor Early Childhood Day at the Legislature (ECDL), a key part of the Kids Are Priority One Coalition’s legacy. The 21st ECDL was held in 2015, co-hosted by Building Bright Futures and Let’s Grow Kids. It brought a near record number of advocates to Montpelier, and drew over 60 legislators for spirited discussions with advocates over lunch.
The Alliance started a new tradition by holding its first Annual Meeting in the spring of 2015, where close to 50 members elected Steering Committee members and helped guide planning for the 2016 legislative session. These annual gatherings continue each spring.
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, home, 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 investments in advocacy, policy and services in Vermont.