Step Up To Quality Stories

Simple Ways to Advocate for Early Childhood Education Issues

Many people got bitten by the political bug this year – fighting for causes you care about, empowering others to use their voice and seeing change happen within your community (and knowing you had something to do with it) are all rewarding and exhilarating. This engagement is the backbone of democracy – and this kind of activism can be good role modeling behavior for teaching children about civics and stewardship of our country.

With the election over, you may be ready to take on a cause near and dear to your heart: early childhood education.

No Shortage of Issues

Quality early childhood education is a crucial element in our state’s ongoing economic stability and growth. These programs provide early learning opportunities for children, allow parents to participate in the workforce and grow our state’s economy. Despite the obvious importance of the early childhood industry, it is still often one of the most undervalued pieces of our local and state infrastructure. To encourage continued investment in this industry, it is important for people passionate about this field to advocate for policies and legislation that support our children, parents and providers.

But where do you even start?

Think about some of the barriers in your own life, or inequities you’ve seen or experienced, related to child care. How can decision makers work together to make quality early childhood education available to every child? Consider these topics:

  • Educator training
  • Parent engagement
  • Program standards
  • Early intervention for high-risk families
  • Child development research
  • Cost of child care
  • Teacher pay
  • Building our future workforce

And there are more topics, of course. Figure out what is most important to you and start with some research. What are other communities doing? What is working? What isn’t working? Put your thoughts down on paper.

Introduce Yourself

Even before you have your ideas organized, reach out to your local elected officials and legislators. Remember, they represent you, so they want to hear from you. It is literally their job to interact with people. Invite your mayor to your child care center. Email your city council representative to introduce yourself. Invite your school board member to chat with you on the phone or online. Ask them about their position and what led them into public service. They’ll want to know about you and what your job or life is like, too. The goal is to simply get to know each other.

Also, reach out to your state senator. In Nebraska, we are fortunate to have a Unicameral, meaning there’s only one body of government for our state, and it’s nonpartisan. Every other state in the country has two governing houses, meaning twice as many people to get to know.

“We just have 49 state senators to get to know and talk to. In New Hampshire, for example, their House of Representatives has 400 senators. I’ve talked with every single Nebraska senator and each of them wants to hear from their constituents,” said First Five Nebraska Deputy Director and Public Policy Manager Elizabeth Lopez Everett.

Deepen Your Knowledge

First Five Nebraska is an advocacy organization focused on changing public policy by changing the public conversation about the importance of quality early childhood education. The organization is a great resource for research, news and expertise in advocacy. They also operate a Nebraska Early Childhood Policy Leadership Academy especially for those who want to learn how to effectively advocate and shape legislative decisions.

The Nebraska Early Childhood Policy Leadership Academy is a non-partisan project focused on helping citizen-leaders better understand and inform early childhood policy in Nebraska. As a participant in this program, you can:

  • Deepen your understanding of the policymaking process in state and local government
  • Expand your knowledge of demographic, educational and economic factors that affect your community’s growth
  • Build a valuable contact network of elected officials, educators, business leaders, civic leaders and others
  • Enhance your personal and professional leadership skills through collaborative projects
  • Learn how to identify and communicate effectively with strategic influencers and audiences in your community

First Five Nebraska has paused this academy during the pandemic but is hopeful that they can resume it again in 2021. However, they always offer online resources about Nebraska legislation and other topics, plus Elizabeth and her team members are always available to answer questions or offer advice.

“The good news is, we have a strong body of support for early childhood education in our state,” Elizabeth said. “We have great partners, organizations and programs like Step Up to Quality ensuring we’re providing the best start in life for our youngest Nebraskans. But this is just the beginning. We have a lot more room to make improvements, but we need everyone involved.”