Confidence in Our Cause? Yes, Actually.

In the beginning, there was not light -- just lunch. It was a lunch at the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington DC to discuss an idea to create an "Alliance" -- stronger links between state-based advocates and national non-profits committed to creating better outcomes for children across the country, from birth to five years old.

The date was November 2, 2004 -- election day. I invited Joan Lombardi to discuss the Alliance idea (which was mostly hers) over the lunch idea (which was mostly mine). Lombardi was sharing her mid-day thoughts before entering President Kerry's administration as a result of the expected outcome that evening. Then, the voters voted and at least one really great thing happened as a result. The Alliance, under Lombardi's founding leadership, was born.

The Alliance in its first year, 2005, was a $1.5 million line item in the budget of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, which I then served as its founding president. It has since grown, under Lisa Klein's direction, into a $7 million plus per year enterprise funded by more than a half dozen national early childhood philanthropies.  Their pooled resources advance a shared agenda whose administration is delegated to Klein and her able colleagues, Steff Clothier and Helene Stebbins who were, to continue the rough Biblical metaphor, more or less there on the First Day of the Alliance's creation.

 As I step down this year as chairman of the Alliance's board, I have never been more confident in the future of our cause. Think about it. We now live in a world where birth-to-three champions and UPK champions are no longer at daggers drawn. Early success now rests upon broader shoulders. We all see more clearly, I think, the importance of the entire continuum that begins prenatally and profoundly influences who can read well and who cannot, who can play well and who cannot, who is healthy and who is not -- upon arrival at third grade and beyond third grade. We now live in a world where a New York Times' columnist on the right (David Brooks) and a columnist on the left (Nicholas Kristof) make essentially the same argument -- repeatedly, thank God -- about the wisdom of our policy propositions. And if you want a litmus test for bi-partisanship, that's a pretty good one. Finally, we now live in a world where a President of the United States has made a $75 billion (75 B's, not the M's we are used to in "good" years) proposal to provide preschool for all low and middle-income 4 year olds and to intelligently expand other services for our most vulnerable infants and toddlers. In a country where Head Start serves one in five income-eligible children almost half a century after its creation and Early Head Start serves roughly one in 20, the word "all" has an admittedly ambitious -- but awfully satisfying -- ring to it.

 And that's the news from just one of our 51 governments across the country. There are just too many red states to mention (but I will name Oklahoma, Georgia, Nebraska, and Mississippi) where there's just too much evidence assembling that elevating early childhood policy-making is not a partisan cause; it's a profoundly important one. With the national economy in recovery at last, and some state and federal policy stars aligning, perhaps we now actually can put our money where the brain science, child development science and the laws of economics have been telling us it belongs for more than a decade. May it prove a Happy New Year in the months to come, for the children and for all of us, followed by our abiding personal commitments until we all together -- finally and with overwhelming evidence -- can say, yes, there's a lot more light than there used to be.

Daniel Pedersen, Chair Emeritus, Alliance for Early Success Board of Directors                (December 30, 2013)