Bending Legislative Ears in Pennsylvania
On July 21 and 22, more than 200 business and civic executives from across the country will come to Boston for the 2011 National Business Leader Summit on Early Childhood Investment. These business leaders will convene to discuss the critical role early childhood policies play in promoting states’ short- and long-term economic vitality, new research on the economic development benefits of early childhood investments, and continued advocacy efforts on the part of business leaders in the face of budget cuts in many states. As Summit host, United Way of Massachusetts and Merrimack Valley, in partnership with the Partnership for America's Economic Success, a project of the Pew Center on the States, will bring you early childhood policy stories from throughout the country.
In the fall of 2008 Governor Ed Rendell appointed 24 business leaders to the newly established Early Learning Investment Commission (ELIC). This group has since grown to include close to 60 business and civic leaders who believe that investment in human capital through quality early childhood education is critically important to our economy. Since early 2009 members of the Commission have spent many hours learning about this issue, visiting high quality child care programs and sharing this information with over 5,000 business and policy leaders across the state. This message has been delivered in many different venues including Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, Workforce Investment Boards, Economic Development Organizations, and United Way meetings as well as women’s leadership organizations…very much a “grass roots” effort involving “grass top” individuals!
In January 2010, ELIC reached out to potential gubernatorial candidates and stressed the “moral imperative” argument that highlighted the return on investment and the workforce development aspects of these investments. In March of 2010, ELIC commissioned a position paper on early childhood education in PA and shared this at the 2010 Economic Summit on Early Childhood Investment held in Harrisburg. Nearly 200 business and civic leaders attended the summit and members met with their state legislators after the conference to share the Partnership for America’s Economic Success white paper and discuss with lawmakers the importance of early childhood investments from their business perspective.
At the March summit a panel discussion was held; all five of the gubernatorial candidates answered questions on early childhood investments. Due in large part to ELIC's outreach during the prior year, all the candidates stated that early childhood investments were an important and sound investment for Pennsylvania.
After Attorney General Tom Corbett was elected governor, ELIC continued to send letters to the Governor, thanking him for his commitment to early childhood issues and asking him to “maintain his commitment” to early childhood. In February of 2011 the governor's budget was released and kept level funding for almost all early childhood programs, while other state programs received cuts in an effort to balance the budget that currently had a $4 billion deficit. During the following months, ELIC members met with their lawmakers to educate them on early childhood investments and the resulting gains that have been made in the state. In the final days of budget negotiations budget cuts were threatened, however the early childhood quality components of the Pennsylvania system such as Pre-K Counts, Keystone STARS, and Head Start State Supplemental sustained only minimal cuts.
Diane E. Halstead
Early Learning Investment Commission
Director - Business Partnerships
Share your state's story with us, what tactics did you use to push for early childhood investments in your state, and how did you recruit business leaders to join you in your efforts? What changes did your state's business leaders push for?