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City Leaders As Champions For Early Learning

November 1, 2018

Many mayors and city leaders are investing in early childhood, making it a key priority for their cities. This blog highlights some examples.

By the Early Childhood Success Team at National League Cities and the BUILD Initiative 

Across the country, mayors and city leaders are prioritizing early care and education.

All mayors and city leaders work to build and maintain thriving cities — ones in which the economy is strong, businesses are growing, people feel safe, and they have access to the services they need. The research is overwhelming: investments in early childhood reap high returns, improving graduation rates and career preparedness, decreasing future social service needs and increasing better life outcomes.

Many mayors and city leaders are investing in early childhood, making it a key priority for their cities. They are using their bully pulpit to advocate for and build awareness. They are reaching out as strong partners in family engagement. They are leveraging city resources and finances and considering how city department policies and practices impact children and families. Mayors and city leaders are also using their influence to convene stakeholders to align plans, definitions, goals, and expectations.

Speaking at BUILD’s Fall State Teams Meeting in October, Kansas City Mayor Sly James said, “Several things may be essential to cities but if we are truly building for the future, we have to prepare young people to lead.” His office created the PreK for KC initiative, proposing an economic development sales tax which would generate $30M annually to offset pre-K tuition costs for eligible families. In an effort to ensure that this initiative will be responsive to providers, Mayor James’ administration has been working directly with local preschool programs to understand the issues providers face and what they need most to be successful. The tax proposal was successfully passed earlier this week.

Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter brought a similar message to a BUILD State Teams Meeting in May 2018. His top priority is ensuring kids thrive as Saint Paul grows. His initiatives and focus begin with early childhood investment and include investment in comprehensive support systems, such as health and affordable housing for Saint Paul children and families.

In Las Vegas, the City’s Strong Start programs are bringing awareness to the importance of birth-to-eight early childhood education. The city is improving access to early childhood education by opening two Strong Start Academies for three- and four-year-olds. Its Strong Start Go Academy Mobile PreK is scheduled to launch in 2018 as an innovative approach to targeting zip codes in which child care deserts exist.

Dayton, Ohio has expanded its Preschool Promise Initiative, growing it from a small pilot supported by county leadership in a Dayton suburb to a demonstration program, and eventually into a citywide program endorsed by Dayton’s mayor and funded through a successful mill levy initiative. Using a mixed-delivery model, Preschool Promise provides a range of care settings that meet the needs and priorities of families. It has successfully increased access through a tuition assistance program and additional family supports.

The cities briefly highlighted here serve as examples of how local mayors and city leaders are striving to better serve their youngest citizens and are creating a culture shift in which children are placed at the center of every decision. Although BUILD’s focus is primarily on helping state leaders create and sustain comprehensive, equitable statewide early childhood systems, BUILD recognizes the importance of local-level systems building. Greater success can be achieved through a state and community-level approach that ensures two-way communication, local buy-in, and state supports for local partnerships. Strong local leaders play a key role in ensuring that all children and families in a state have access to the early childhood opportunities and supports they need to thrive.

Local Early Child Systems are strengthened and early childhood outcomes improve when municipal government, community and all sectors align efforts around a shared vision for young children. The National League of Cities’ Early Childhood Success (NLC) team works with city leaders and local teams to improve early childhood outcomes and build systems that are responsive and supportive of young children and their families.  However, cities and states efforts are not always aligned.  BUILD and NLC are working with leaders – local, state and national – to broaden approaches and include both city and state leaders in early childhood improvement efforts.

So, when you think of improving early childhood outcomes, think of city government and your mayor. Cities are where young children and their families, live, work, play and pray. Cities provide the structure and context of our neighborhoods and have an impact on the opportunities that are available and the challenges faced. Cities are centers of innovation. If you want to improve early childhood well-being, partnering with your city leaders is key.

About the National League of Cities: The National League of Cities, the oldest and largest association representing municipal governments, works in partnership with 49 state municipal leagues to serve as a resource to and advocate for over 19,000 cities, villages, and towns. NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families has nearly 20 years of experience helping city leaders take action on behalf of the children, youth, and families in their communities. The Early Childhood Success program works with cities, to improve city leaders’ capacity to reach across their communities, align programs, design policies, and ultimately build systems that are responsive and supportive of young children and their families. To learn more about NLC’s Early Childhood Success program, visit the website at: /work/quality-improvement/

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