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The Power of Louisiana’s Shared Voice: How Authentic Coalitions Made Early Childhood a Policy Priority

 
In 2019, advocates and community partners from around the state of Louisiana came together to make young children a priority issue in the governor’s race. Polling data showed it was a priority for voters, and candidates were competing to own the issue
 
In January, we convened a group of Louisiana advocates who shared how they worked together to achieve this new momentum for young children and their families.
 

Libbie Sonnier, Executive Director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children (LPIC), began the presentation by taking the audience back to 2019 and a poll — completed by a conservative polling firm — that provided powerful data segmented by region that showed candidates and legislators the popularity of early childhood programs and supports with their specific voters. While polling can be (as was) expensive, it was a crucial piece of the strategy. The findings were the foundation of the 2019 candidate education materials developed by LPIC. (LIPC is a 501(c)3 organization, and the work all fell within the boundaries of issue education.)

“Data drives every message that we put out,” Sonnier said. It helps center them as the go-to expert on early care and education in the state, including as an information source for the important Louisiana’s Early Childhood Care and Education Commission.

Also essential was the Ready Louisiana Coalition, a group of more than 100 advocates from a variety of businesses and organizations, who worked together to raise early care and education issues.  

Ashley Shelton, Executive Director of Louisiana’s Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, joined to conversation to talk about their role in the coalition and to remind the group that “the people closest to the problem are closest to the solution.” Parents and providers provide additional data, including stories and the ground-level impact of policies.

Shelton talked about working together with other organizations in the effort and the power that comes from sharing — but that it takes real relationships and trust. 

Charmaine Caccioppi, Executive Vice President of the United Way of Southeast Louisiana, joined the conversation to share the important role of the business community in elevating early care and education on the state policy landscape. In Louisiana, the United Was is a channel for businesses to advocate for community-focused policy, and Caccioppi shared that their organization is the only United Way that has a registered lobbyist and that has a public policy committee established as its Board of Trustees.

“Industry has influence with elected leaders,” Caccioppi insisted, and building business leaders’ awareness and passion for early childhood has been a big piece of the success in Louisiana. 

The United Way of Southeast Louisiana also spotlights the state’s ALICE data ( information about the Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed population), which further ties community support to workforce issues. 

But as strong as the individual groups are, it is working together that has led to the significant advances. 

More and more state early childhood advocacy communities, like in Louisiana, are seeing an opening to go beyond influencing incremental policy change and to set their sights on a bigger goal — leveraging authentic and equitable coalitions to create a broad constituency for early childhood investments that endures beyond single election cycles. 

This next level of advocacy requires building equity skills. Expanding coalitions. Focusing on collective power. 

“We know that we’re better together,” Shelton said, “and that we’ve been winning. We have been systemically changing early ed for our state and it feels good.”