In a new policy brief, The Center on American Progress (CAP) is calling on governors to take executive action on early education.
“Governors can become early childhood leaders by setting a vision for early learning and adopting it as a key agenda item,” the center says.
Governors’ toolkits include executive orders, state agency directives, budget proposals, and working “with their legislatures to prioritize state investments in young children.”
Consider the story of former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt who had served for two terms. In the early 1990s, Hunt was out for a walk in the woods when he saw a small child near a poor shack trying to drink from an empty bottle. “This is the child we need to be helping,” Hunt recalls thinking in the book “The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-First Politics,” by University of California-Berkeley’s public policy professor David L. Kirp. The sight of this child made Hunt wonder how the state of North Carolina could help this child.
So Hunt decided to run for governor again, and was reelected in 1993.
He then launched “the Smart Start initiative, which created a public-private partnership to fund early childhood programs in all 100 North Carolina counties,” the center explains. “The state became a leader in early education as one of the first states to develop a quality rating and improvement system, or QRIS, to systematically improve the quality of child care.” And as we blogged on Tuesday, research shows North Carolina is on the right track.
Massachusetts also wins CAP’s praise for former Governor Deval Patrick’s actions. “In 2008, then-Gov. Deval Patrick (D) of Massachusetts issued an executive order establishing a Child and Youth Readiness Cabinet to ensure state agencies were aligned.”
That same year, Patrick “issued an executive order to require coordination between agencies tasked with administering early learning programs.”
What else can the nation’s governor’s do? The Center has a list of 17 ideas, including:
• develop a statewide strategic plan
• set up task forces “to develop a strategic plan or address a pressing early childhood issue in their state.”
• form a children’s cabinet: unlike task forces, cabinets “are typically permanent bodies with a broad focus on policies that affect children from birth to college.”
• appoint a business advisory committee
• lead a public awareness campaign on the need to support early learning.
• promote the importance of quality
• appoint an early learning advisor to the administration’s staff
• Include increased funding for early childhood in state budgets
• use Medicaid financing for home visiting, and
• require interagency data collaboration
“It is important for states to focus on the actions that will best address their specific early learning challenges,” the center says.
“Ultimately, a substantial investment of new funds will be required for the significant expansion of early learning programs necessary to meet the growing needs of American families. Governors should take the lead in making the case for increased investment at the state and federal levels in order to expand access to affordable high-quality early learning programs for all children.”