Valley of the Sun United Way convened community leaders from across the state to talk about how to best raise awareness of ECE needs and make it a top community issue. Building on this initial meeting, in 2002 the Partners for Arizonas Children was formed. With more than 32 members, this public-private partnership aims to engage the whole community in ECE investments.
The current list of partners include: Arizona Child Care Association; Arizona Department of Economic Security; Arizona Community Foundation; Arizona Department of Education; Early Childhood Education; Arizona Literacy and Learning Center; Association for Supportive Child Care; ASU at the West campus - College of Education; Bank One; Chicanos Por La Causa; Children's Action Alliance; City of Phoenix Head Start; City of Phoenix Human Services; Clear Channel; Fowler School District; KAET 8; Governor's Office of Children, Youth and Families; Mesa United Way; N Power Arizona; Phoenix Children's Hospital; New Directions Institute; Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust; Rio Salado Community College; Snell and Wilmer Foundation; St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center; Catholic HealthCare West; St. Luke's Health Initiatives; Stardust Foundation; State of Arizona School Readiness Board; The BHHS Legacy Foundation; United Way of Northern Arizona; United Way of Pinal County; United Way of Prescott; United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona; United Way of Yuma; Valley of the Sun United Way; United Health Care; Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust; and Wells Fargo Bank.
Partners recognized the need to engage business leaders to most effectively improve conditions for children in Arizona. They also recognized that most business leaders and the public in general were not well informed about issues that influence children. The Center for Business Research at Arizona State was approached to look at the ECE conditions in the state from a business and economic perspective, build on the returns on investment and economic impact messaging being used nationally, and identify best practices as part of a research effort that would ask and answer important questions around ECE investments for Arizona.
The Economic Impact of Child Care report served as a starting point for engaging business leaders and others to talk about improving the quality of early education. The numbers from the report are somewhat outdated but the economic impact message remains part of the community education and outreach campaigns being conducted across the state. After the release of the economic impact report, the United Way took the lead in disseminating the data. The state was divided into the United Way service areas with each local chapter working to educate their local communities. Many have hosted business leader summits and other community events on an annual basis and chosen topics that focus on the needs of the local community. Included at these events are employer groups, agencies that encourage family-friendly workplaces and others providing services that support working families.
Using Economic Messages
Arizona has invested significant time and effort in educating the public about the importance of ECE and engaging business leaders. One key to Arizona's success has been identifying business leaders who are not only willing to make investments, but to lend their voices to policy efforts at the state level. Another important component of a successful campaign was the continuous education of the public through several marketing campaigns aimed at changing public perception.
Partners for Arizona's Children continues to take the economic impact message to the community and business leaders. Efforts include engaging local government, the workforce sectors, hospitals, banks, and the United Way networks to educate people about the importance of ECE. To better frame their message, a baseline attitudinal survey was conducted with the general public and business community on the issue of ECE. Responses to the business survey indicated that additional messaging was needed to increase the understanding about the importance of ECE. The general public survey found that priority is given to K-12 and higher education rather than early education because K-12 is perceived to have a greater impact. New messaging was created that highlights the connection between ECE and school success. Additional data on the longer term connection between ECE and school drop out rates is also being shared. Partners for Arizona's Children anticipate completing another survey in 2009 to look for change in attitudes especially among the business community.
The United Way continues to be a strong partner and uses the message that ECE is linked to school success in their Success by 6 marketing campaign. The United Way of Tucson, an early Successes by 6 site, launched this campaign with funding received from corporate partners and has remained committed to connecting business with early education in Tucson since early 2000. Refining the message from a social service or government perspective to one supported by the science of brain research and the economic impact gave businesses a way to understand how early education affects their company.
The You're It campaign, developed by the Partners for Arizona's Children, was launched in 2005 using input from business focus groups in its design. This volunteer-driven, statewide campaign aims to increase public awareness and engagement around the importance of investing in children. Resources and materials have been developed for parents, communities, and business leaders.
Boosting the Economic Power of Early Care and Education: Key Highlights
Valley of the Sun United Way hosted an Early Childhood Summit in 2006 and released its community impact report, "Investing in the Success of our Youngest Children." More than 120 business leaders were in attendance to hear Charles Kolb, president of the Committee for Economic Development, discuss the importance of business support for early education.
Tucson United Way has hosted a series of business events over the past five years. One goal has been to add 10 new business leaders each year as participants in the annual business summit/business leader breakfast. The goal was to work toward increasing the number of businesses engaged and also shift the balance of the event so there were more businesses attending than early childhood professionals. After three years of mediocre success the half-day format was abandoned in favor of a more business-friendly agenda. With input from business leaders on the board, the summit was revamped into a small breakfast event with business leaders, the Mayor of Tucson, and the Governor. The United Way also focused its efforts on inviting well-known local business leaders who the United Way wanted to approach about serving as local ECE champions. The event was designed to leave business leaders with a clear idea of potential investments in ECE. The following year's breakfast event was headlined by a leading researcher in brain development. Feedback from the event was that the brain research message along with the connections between ECE successes really resonated. The 2005 business event co-hosted by the United Way and Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce also recognized local businesses investing in early education. In 2008, Rob Grunewald from the Federal Reserve Bank served as the event's keynote speaker. The evening prior, an invitation-only dinner for business and philanthropists hosted by the president of the United Way Board of Directors was held and was very well received.
In May 2007 the city of Tucson hosted the Tucson Regional Town Hall meeting to give citizens an opportunity to discuss critical issues such as water, transportation, education, workforce, and literacy. More than 160 community leaders participated in the day's event. Early education was chosen as one of the 11 top issues. Follow-up sessions on each of these top issues were scheduled. The ECE follow-up conversation was held in May 2008 and had more than 400 participants. The meeting was hosted by the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, the Tucson Regional Town Hall, Southern Arizona Leadership Council, and First Things First. Recommendations from this meeting in support of early childhood education will go back to the Tucson Town Hall.
Since 1999, the United Way of Tucson First Focus on Kids Initiative has created new opportunities for local investment. The Diamond Family Foundation – grown from the family's construction business in Tucson - invested $1 million over 5 years as a challenge grant to be matched by other local businesses in Southern Arizona. The foundation will match money raised by United Way up to $200,000 a year for five years for the First Focus on Kids campaign. In addition, the Diamond family has served as a vocal champion at the state and local level for increased investment in early education. Funding has been used to help local providers to get national accreditations as well as offer additional services to families and children. Other local businesses have invested in ECE with several sponsoring child care centers in the quality improvement program.
Valley of the Sun United Way leads an effort to bring together state leaders and donors for a regional school readiness partnership. An advocacy tool kit has been created to provide parents and caregivers with information and resources. Materials were also developed to encourage local participation in moving the school readiness agenda forward.
State and Legislative Actions
Arizona received a grant from the National Governors Association to support state efforts in creating a comprehensive school readiness agenda. National experts in ECE spoke on strategies and challenges in building ECE systems. The summit also celebrated the passage of the legislation that created First Things First to oversee support and investment in early childhood development and health programs in the state.
In 2006, First Things First (Proposition 203) was passed and created the Early Childhood Development and Health Fund to be funded through an increase in the state tax on tobacco products. The appointed board was charged with establishing programs and providing grants to increase the quality of and access to early childhood development and health services for children birth to five years of age and their families. The task of First Things First, as cited on its website, is “to create a sustainable system by choosing wisely among politically and economically-viable options for a maximum return on its investments.” A longtime child advocate and well-known business champion in the state was instrumental in engaging other business leaders, providing financial support, and using his voice at the legislature to encourage the passage of this legislation on the third attempt. The legislation was supported by Partners for Arizona's Children and the United Way, both of whom assisted with the language in the legislation. The First Things First strategic plan adopted in early 2008 has included among its priorities a quality rating system and a teacher education and compensation program.
First Things First is Arizona's comprehensive early care system. The website has extensive information on the initiative including focus areas, regional coordination, information and board meeting minutes.
Partners for Arizona's Children is a statewide public-private partnership of more than 30 organizations working to increase awareness and engagement around the importance of investing in children.
Tucson Regional Town Hall is an effort that began in spring of 2007 to include local citizens in discussing critical issues facing the Tucson region, including education, land-use planning, water, transportation and workforce development. More than 160 people participated in that event. Now community members are encouraged to participate in follow-up meetings on the 12 major topics identified at the Town Hall
Valley of the Sun United Way has focused on early education and was the convener of the Partner's for Arizona's Children. The website included information and materials on its efforts.
The You're It initiative is a statewide campaign to increase public awareness and engagement around the importance of investing in children. The website includes information such as speaker presentations and power points, materials and a tool kit for engagement.