The Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) is an association of 120 cities and 9 county governments. It includes governmental agencies in the bi-state Kansas City region (i.e., Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri) and its focus is on strengthening metropolitan communities by encouraging collaborative problem solving and cooperative action. For the past 10 years MARC has led efforts to increase investment in ECE and serve as a catalyst for state action. The Metropolitan Council of Early Learning (MCEL) is a program within MARC. It was formed in 1989 and is working to assist in the development and implementation of an early learning system in the greater Kansas City region. Given the number of influential businesses in the Kansas City Metro area, MCEL has focused its work on engaging the business community for many years. An opportunity to take business leaders to a child care center really brought the issue to life, especially the conversation about quality. Since then some strong commitments from local philanthropic organizations and business leaders have been made in early education.
Kansas was one of the early states to complete an economic impact report. The release in 2003 resulted from a partnership between the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and Mid-America Regional Council. The study also included the Cornell University Linking Economic Development and Child Care team and the Alliance for Early Childhood Finance. An advisory committee was formed to assist with the study and include representatives from child advocacy, state agencies and researchers. One purpose for completing the study was to help illustrate the importance and benefits of ECE investments especially during a tight budget year and to provide ECE advocates with a new language to reach out to business leaders.
Using Economic Messages
The Kansas Child Care Economic Impact Report is a valuable tool but had less of an impact on local business leaders than statements from national business leaders, the Federal Reserve Bank, and economist Dr. James Heckman. The attention given to early learning by national business leaders sparked a local interest that resulted in using the economic impact message prior to the report’s release. Using economic language allowed new questions regarding ECE to be asked and created an opportunity for local businesses to discuss workforce issues connected to child care. This led to a shift in thinking – ECE was no longer a human service issue but a workforce and economic development issue. Used in conjunction with national messaging about the economic impact of child care, it us an effective tool in engaging the business community at the state and local level.
Kansas City metro area business owners are important advocates at the state and local level. The Chamber is a strong supporter of ECE and uses its position in the community to ask the hard questions of local political leaders during campaign season and once in office. They have been leaders in enforcing the importance of quality and reimbursement rates, as these have a direct connection to issues like crime and school success which are of particular concern to the business community. The Chamber has helped connect ECE organizations with economic development professionals and add ECE to discussions on urban planning. Strides are being made to better collaborate with city school districts and discuss inclusion of early learning in school reform.
United Way has served as an important partner in convening local ECE comprehensive service plan meetings. In 2007, Governor Sebelius hosted a summit Building Blocks: Readying Kids for a Growing Economy with funding from the National Governor’s Association to emphasize the importance of early investment in early childhood.United Way was part of the Governor’s Summit and helped bring business partner to the table, hosting a special dinner as part of the summit. They have provided critical services in helping to get 100 Kansas City child care centers nationally accredited.
Information and data sharing to build trust and accountability has been an effective use of the economic impact message. The Kansas Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems plan (KECCS) convenes large stakeholder meeting 2 times a year. They bring a business perspective to thinking about program development and implementation. They focus on outcomes, benefits, accountability, evaluation and what is being achieved as a result of the work. This has built a dedication to finding the best solutions and given the business community an opportunity to use their expertise to think differently about how to achieve better outcomes for children, increase education for teachers, and improve quality in early learning. KECCS also works at the local level and has created tool kits to help communities organize themselves around the state plan’s five goals. The tool kit assists communities in mirroring the state process for assessing how they are doing, communicating outcomes to stakeholders and determining areas for improvement.
Connecting data from multiple children focused initiatives helps build a stronger message. KECCS is working on a parent initiative to better engage parents and is looking at how agencies and ECE program use parent input to better serve children and families. In addition, new efforts are being made to connect the ECE and prevention fields. There are significant economic effects of abuse and the data strongly highlight the connection between ECE, parent involvement, child safety and future success.
Boosting the Economic Power of Early Care and Education: Key Highlights
In 1996, the Partnership for Children launched the #1 Questions campaign “Is It Good For Children?” This engaged many civic and business leaders in thinking about how children and families are impacted by business and local governance decisions. This public campaign opened a path for integrating and including ECE in local economic, workforce, education, and land use planning. In addition, this work raised awareness of the role of children and families in the community. With additional resources, the Partnership is hoping to re-launch the campaign.
Kansas Coalition for School Readiness is a pubic private coalition that started as collaboration between three statewide child advocacy organizations: Kansas Action for Children; Kansas Head Start Association, and the Kansas Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies and the business community. Today these leaders are working together to support investment in ECE. They use the economic impact messages to mobilize a broad base of community support that has been effective in advocating and educating legislators. The coalition effectively makes the case for investments in children by highlighting both the economic and social returns.
In April 2008, the Committee for Economic Development (CED) in partnership with local ECE leadership teams hosted an early childhood education luncheon. Businesses were the targeted audience. The President of Bank of Blue Valley gave the closing remarks and urged all business leaders to take a lead role in advocating for early education investments. The Governor, also participating in the event, asked for business support in working to ensure additional state investments in ECE.
State and Legislative Actions
Kansas received a National Governors Association grant award to host a summit on early education. Governor Sebelius has made early childhood education a priority and the summit provided an opportunity for state policy makers, business leaders, community organizations and advocates to learn about the social and economic importance of investments in early education. The summit also recognized state business leaders who have shown their support for ECE and encouraged them to continue to be a strong voice for children at the state policy level. Approximately 30 legislators, representing both sides of the aisle, participated in this effort. This showed great bi-partisan support in a state with a Democratic Governor and Republican Legislature.
In the 1999 legislative session the Kansas Legislature created the Kansas Children’s Cabinet. A primary role of the Cabinet is to plan for and oversee the expenditure of 95% of the Master Tobacco Settlement dedicated to improving the lives and well-being of young children in Kansas. In addition, the Cabinet is charged with helping to develop a comprehensive ECE system that promotes school readiness. A focus of the Cabinet is the Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Plan (KECCS). KECCS resulted from a two-year collaborative strategic planning effort to create a unified effort for investing in children that includes ECE and school readiness priorities. Roughly 2,000 community members contributed input used in developing the plan. Current ECE programs and efforts aimed at family and children were included so cohesiveness was built into future action. The plan is organized into 5 goal areas with leadership for each provided by engaged partners. The result has allowed the initiative to leverage the expertise of partners in a process that has encouraged collaboration rather than competition. The economic impact message is one tool being used to engage various audiences, businesses and others. It has been useful in reframing ECE into a perspective more in line with how businesses and legislators weigh decisions and investments. It has also given early learning advocates one clear message and package for businesses and policy leaders to support. The KECCS plan is managed by the Institute for Education Research and Public Service at the University of Kansas.
A legislative post-audit report conducted last year on early childhood programs found that coordination was very high and there was not a lot of duplication of services. These results were very positive and, coming just before the Governor’s Summit, created additional momentum for ECE investments.
The 2005 Legislature created the 2010 Commission to look at the state education system with particular emphasis on the implementation and operation of the School District Finance and Quality Performance Act. Work is underway with the Children’s Cabinet to consider a new governance structure that is integrated with the early childhood system.
In the 2007 state budget, Legislators approved $5.1 million in expanded funding for ECE programs including an expansion of the pre-kindergarten pilot programs, Early Head Start and child care quality initiatives.
2008 Legislature passed legislation resulting in $14 million in new money being allocated for investment in ECE. This includes $11.1 million early childhood block grant from tobacco funds.
Kansas Coalition for School Readiness is a collaborative effort among early learning advocates and practitioners, business leaders, parents, law enforcement, and others interested in supporting investment in early childhood education. Their website has research and data on the importance of ECE as well as information about current policy action and the outcomes of current program investments.
Kansas Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems is the home site of a comprehensive statewide plan for investing the children. The website offers information on the history, work and outcomes to date and well as tools and resources.
Kansas Partnership for Children uses research, education and community engagement to improve the quality of life for children in Greater Kansas City's. Their website has research and data along with information on program and opportunities for youth and their policy agenda.
Metropolitan Council on Early Learning works to support and promote the development of early learning system in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. The website offers extensive information on their project and initiatives from a quality rating system to professional development, public policy and economic data.