Policy Change: How to Make it Happen

In Anaheim last week, ’s  national conference offered a number of great opportunities for discovering your inner policy wonk.  Here’s one that hit me right where I live—in the land where practice meets policy.

Early Wednesday morning, I joined a sizable group of ECE practitioners from across the country (and a lone person from Singapore) for “Using Your Program as a Platform for Policy Change.”  Margie Wallen and Brandy Lawrence, of the , along with Mary Jane Chainski and Sarah Mudd, of the , outlined effective strategies that programs can use to advance policies that support young children and families.  They emphasized the importance of partnerships between programs and advocates, whose full-time job is policy change.  They also walked us through the process of preparing for and conducting a program tour for local and state lawmakers.  The overall framework: Link practice, policy, and research.

  Here’s a list of tips:

  • Partner with local advocates to determine policy priorities and context; for data; and for policy action steps.
  • Schedule a tour during the legislative recess.
  • The morning is best, for 60-90 minutes.
  • Designate someone on staff to coordinate the tour and the master calendar.
  • Spend time strategically framing your message.
  • Prepare the tour guide and staff resources.
  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • Check in before the tour to make sure everyone is good to go.
  • Allow time for questions.
  • Keep handouts brief so that your visitors are not overwhelmed. 

Here are just a couple of the building blocks for making the case to your visiting policymaker, to dramatize the features of your program that we know, based on the evidence, prepare children for success in school and life: 

  • You point out that your Infant-Toddler classroom is equal in space to your pre-K classroom.  You know, from the data your advocate partners have collected, about the high demand for infant care in your community and the lack of space and resources.  You explain that good relationships between children and adults cannot happen with too many children.  You show your legislator one of those moments of engagement between an adult and child in which the child’s brain is literally building connections. [Small class size and high ratios=high-quality learning opportunities.]
  • You point out that young children learn best in the context of secure and stimulating relationships with adults.  You explain that those moments of engagement and learning do not just happen, that they are intentional, informed, as in all professions, by a base of core knowledge and competencies.  You tell your legislator that the ability to effectively design and implement curriculum based on early learning standards depends on education, specialized training and ongoing professional development.  [Workforce development=high-quality learning opportunities.]

Start planning your tour right now.  With states in dire straits, the competition for making the case is fierce.

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