In the past few years, the Alliance’s allies in Arkansas – a collaboration of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and other consultants and stakeholders – have worked to elevate the voices and experiences of early childhood educators in their advocacy efforts. When the pandemic started more than a year ago, the fact that members of the ECE workforce are the best spokespeople for the field became more obvious than ever. Allies in Arkansas joined forces with the Arkansas Early Childhood Association (AECA) by supporting their leadership development and strategic planning.
In the process, they worked with AECA to influence the use of child care funds from the federal government and to help its members share their stories and ideas with policymakers.
Advocating for ECE in Arkansas’s Use of Federal Funds
Alliance allies spent much of 2021 working with ECE providers in the AECA to participate in the state’s planning process for the use of federal funds through the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) and the American Rescue Plan (ARP). They sub-contracted with a communications professional to produce a package of forward-facing materials to inform early childhood educators about the Child Care Development Block Grant Legislation, its role in the state’s ECE system, and the resources allocated to the state through the CCDF.
The cornerstone of the communications approach was a series of blog posts directed to early childhood educators that provided:
- An overview on what the state’s CCDF plan is and why it is important to the ECE workforce
- A link to the plan draft, posted for comments
- Information on the comment process and the opportunity to participate
- Recommendations submitted by AECA for the CCDF plan and the ARP funds, with ways educators can submit their own recommendations.
The desired outcome of this strategy — sharing AECA’s recommendations with the broader ECE workforce — was to spur more ideas and more comments. AECA also knew that readers would see that many of these recommendations would support them and/or their programs… and hopefully encourage them to submit the recommendations they liked as their own comments. AACF and AECA made sure the field knew that more of them that share the same idea, the stronger their voices would be.
In addition to the coordinated effort in the CCDF planning process, allies engaged in efforts such as hosting virtual townhalls to discuss the lessons learned during the pandemic in early childhood education, meeting with groups of licensed child care directors to engage them in the state planning process, engaging in legislative outreach during the 2021 special session to support the implementation of health measures in Pre-K settings, and recruiting early childhood advocacy groups such as AECA, Excel by 8, and the infant mental health association to join a budget coalition.
The strategy worked. AECF reviewed the public comments made in response to the FY 2022-2024 CCDF state plan, and the=y included suggestions like expanding the TEACH Scholarship program, increasing funding for quality improvement, changing the subsidy payment rate to be based on enrollment not attendance, and increasing funding for teacher salaries. These suggestions are centered around many of the recommendations made by AECA.
In fact, AACF and AECA determined that just over 70% of the comments are directly connected to the AECA recommendations.
A Storytelling Partnership Helps Give ECE Professionals a Voice
Early childhood allies in Arkansas are expanding their strategy to strengthen the power of ECE professionals. With support from Alliance’s allies, AECA recently initiated a partnership with The Yarn, an Arkansas nonprofit using the power of story to amplify voices, build understanding, and create space for human connection. The partnership aims to link together the importance of communication, advocacy and the membership of a professional ECE association. Since public speaking, outside of their classrooms and programs, is not typically part of an early educator’s training or job, the association is teaming up with the Yarn to recruit a group of educators and provide each of them a coach in the art of storytelling.
The first cohorts starts work this fall.