Business Champions for Children Gather in Springfield

 

A guest post by Sally Fuller, Project Director of Reading Success by 4th Grade, part of the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation

David Lawrence Jr. spoke with energy and insight at last month’s Business Champions for Children event. Held at Springfield’s Basketball Hall of Fame on July 10, 2017, the event’s goal was to increase the momentum of Massachusetts’ investments in young children.

Lawrence, the former publisher of the Miami Herald, is the chair of the Children’s Movement of Florida. And as a grandfather of eight children, it’s no surprise to hear him say in this video, “I simply became convinced… that the whole future of my community and my country depends on doing right, particularly in the early childhood years.”

Massachusetts is ripe for this kind of action. As MassLive.com reports, the state has “$33 million for early childhood education pending in the state budget,” and businesses are “crying out for better-prepared workers…” Match the state funding and the business need, and Massachusetts could start building a pipeline that prepares young children to grow up and fill employers’ vacancies.

“This is not a quick fix,” Lawrence said at the business champions event — co-sponsored by the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, the Springfield Business Leaders for Education, the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, and the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation’s Reading Success by 4th Grade initiative — “I have been focused on this for 18 years.”

The effort, Lawrence said, will take more funding and more collaboration among business leaders, the community, lawmakers and policy experts.

Drawing on his experience in Florida, Lawrence argued that a broad-based, public policy campaign that calls for improving early education for 3- and 4-year-olds should focus on every child in every family – and not just the poor and underserved, MassLive reports, adding:

“In Florida, voters approved a constitutional amendment for early childhood education in 2002 that became operational in the 2005-06 school year. The program pays for three hours a day of instruction for 4-year-olds at public schools and at private and faith-based schools that meet requirements.

“It’s voluntary, but 70 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds participate.

“Parents who need more than three hours of child care a day pay for additional time, or institutions find other funding.”

The sunshine state will no doubt see more innovation as the Florida Children’s Movement continues to grow. Lawrence has also expanded his role. He now chairs the board of The Chidlren’s Trust, “a dedicated source of revenue established by voter referendum to improve the lives of children and families in Miami-Dade County.”

In addition to learning about Florida, the Business Champions’ agenda also included news about Massachusetts. For example, earlier this year, a group of business leaders convened by House Speaker Robert DeLeo released a report on expanding access to high-quality early education. And a few months later, the Senate released its “Put Kids First” blueprint.

Speaking at the Champions’ event, JD Chesloff, head of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, and a member of House Speaker DeLeo’s business advisory group, said DeLeo believes that the state should focus on improving the quality of the early education workforce. This would benefit the children and families being served and bring more dignity and professionalism to the field.

Chesloff explained that the group’s mission was to “provide systems and management expertise, strategic guidance, and data-based programmatic and financial advice focused on the critical needs of the early education and care workforce.”

Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) spoke about the Senate’s Kids First blueprint explaining, “If we were to put the right policies and resources in place, we can make sure every child born is given the support he or she needs, from prenatal care to early childhood education to quality schools and higher education opportunities [that are] free of crushing debt.We could transform the Commonwealth in a generation.”

It was David Lawrence who offered stirring marching orders to Massachusetts — and to every state –by sharing the powerful words of Fred Rogers:

“Our goal as a nation must be to make sure that no child is denied the chance to grow in knowledge and character from the very first years.” In Mister Rogers Neighborhood, he added, “every child is welcome into the world of learning – not just a few, not just ones from certain neighborhoods but every child.”