The January 2019 session of the Georgia General Assembly welcomed a newly elected Governor and many new members of the legislature, and we were determined to ensure that our policy makers kept the needs of Georgia’s infants and toddlers at top of mind. Thus, on the second day of the 2019 session of the Georgia General Assembly, Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS) and the Metro Atlanta Chamber worked with two early education champions, Representatives Katie Dempsey and Robert Dickey, to host our first Georgia Early Learning Legislative Academy.
The Legislative Academy was inspired by the National Council of State Legislators’ Early Learning Fellows Program, and Representatives Dempsey and Dickey are alumni of the program. As we planned our Academy, we relied on advice from NCSL regarding topics that are most popular with legislators. We developed a digital and print resource book of materials for attendees, and before the Academy we sent every legislator their GEEARS Early Childhood Profile – a snapshot of their district’s statistics on young children.
The half-day Academy featured briefings on Georgia’s early learning system, the economic impact that lack of child care access has on Georgia’s economy, and a training on infant brain development. Speakers included:
- David Lawrence Jr., former publisher of The Miami Herald and chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida
- Sarah Roseberry Lytle, the Director of the Outreach and Education division at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington
- Stephanie V. Blank, Board Chair of GEEARS
- Amy Jacobs, Commissioner of Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning
- Hanah Goldberg, PhD, Director of Policy and Research for GEEARS
- Tim Cairl, Director of Education Policy for Metro Atlanta Chamber.
Quite simply, this inaugural Legislative Academy was a huge success and appreciated by attendees. Our speakers were well-received, and the attendees were engaged throughout the 5-hour program. We were pleased that the newly appointed chairs of both the House and Senate education committees attended as well as several other members of legislative leadership. Three freshman legislators and 15 staff members from legislative offices and state agencies also attended. There was geographic diversity as well as a bipartisan mix of 7 Republican and 8 Democrat legislators. Most importantly, the Legislative Academy helped set the stage for conversations that we had with legislators throughout the legislative session. Those relationships paved the way for the establishment of a House study committee on Infant and Toddler Mental Health as well as new state funding for subsidized child care.
In Fall 2019, we have plans to host a day-long early education bus tour for members of key legislative committees, and then we hope to host an abbreviated version of the Legislative Academy for freshman legislators during the 2020 legislative session.