By Dr. Rachel Sutz Pienta
On Friday, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum will hold a community Summit on Children, to kick off his Family First Agenda. You can watch the event here beginning at 8am ET Friday.
A Gillum-penned op-ed appeared online at The Huffington Post. In the article, Gillum made the argument for investing in children:
Investing in early childhood education and quality childcare has far-reaching and long-lasting positive effects on the growth and development of our children. We know through the most compelling kinds of research and data that over 90 percent of brain development occurs between a child’s birth and the time they are five-years-old, and that so many life outcomes are impacted and determined during those precious early years.
Where have we heard this language before? Yes, President Obama has certainly emphasized investments in children and early learning as a national priority. However, Floridians will remember that the late Governor Lawton Chiles spearheaded initiatives that still form the framework for early learning policy throughout the state of Florida. Programs such as Healthy Start Coalitions and Healthy Families Florida are the legacy of the foundational work for improving the lives of children in Florida that Chiles began in the 1990s.
The landing page for the Lawton Chiles Foundation lists statistics that highlight how far Florida has not come since the days of the “he-coon” governor.
Gillum makes the case for the return on investment that benefit society when resources are devoted to children at critical early life stages:
Investments in early childhood education can yield a substantial return on investment. Every dollar put into early childhood education can yield more than $8 to the general public; accrued from savings on other public services and remedial costs — costs that we share collectively as a society.
Gillum is new to the mayoral role but has served on the Tallahassee City Commission for more than ten years. In his professional career with People for the American Way (PFAW), Gillum convened national annual policy summits for young elected officials. This effort has the potential to not only mobilie the Tallahassee community but to also ignite policy discussions across the state in a direction that has not been seen in Florida for almost two decades.
The potential to leverage this effort beyond Tallahassee city limits is exemplified by the efforts of other states to convene leaders on similar issues. For example, mayors in Arizona have been engaged in an effort called the Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable:
The Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable, a WestEd initiative, brings together mayors of Arizona’s larger cities, district superintendents, and their key staff to share data, evidence-based and promising practices, and programmatic strategies that can help address local challenges affecting students’ educational and career success. The Roundtable is convened by WestEd and funded with core support by The Helios Education Foundation.
Georgia education leaders started a project called “A Vision for Public Education in Georgia” in 2009. In a year long process, community conversations on education were held across the state of Georgia. As one of the project’s research associates, I worked on the section focused on early learning and student success (Read the full report here: http://gavisionproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/vpe_full_report_6.21.11.pdf). Our national literature review cited the Chiles’ foundation work in Florida.
In the report we emphasized how mobilized communities could improve children’s lives and life outcomes:
Mobilized communities usually take three actions: 1) focus efforts on achieving more positive outcomes for children, youth, and families; 2) fill gaps in education, health, family support, childcare, economic support (income, job training, transportation), and related human services; and 3) link services to bring more continuous and convenient help to families. The most successful initiatives use evidence-based programs and practices to address local needs and then sustain the collaborations over a period of time. Through these efforts, communities enhance the capacities of families to address their social, economic, health, spiritual, cultural, educational, and other developmental needs through building and strengthening individual capacities. Concurrently, the communities improve their service delivery structures and increase family access to services and social support networks (From “A Vision for Public Education”, GSBA & GSSA, 2010, p. 11).
Gillum’s Family First Agenda could be a “game changer” in Tallahassee. The initiative has the potential to be transformative for the entire Big Bend community. Furthermore, the successful implementation of Gillum’s vision could translate to a seismic shift for Democrats across the state. In recent years, we have seen Democratic legislative leaders – marginalized with little voice and fewer votes in Tallahassee – jump ship from the Legislature to become county and municipal officials. Florida’s future electoral bench is likely to emerge from the ranks of city and county officials. Along these lines, Tallahassee’s new mayor is widely seen as a leader to watch.
Dr. Rachel Sutz Pienta began her education policy career in 1995. She left the ivory tower after nineteen years to become a non-profit leader for a health organization.