Policy Resource

RALLY ON—It’s Working!

Jun 18, 2013

This week has started strong for our country’s babies. With Monday’s first-ever Virtual #Rally4Babies, our youngest children finally took center stage.

he rally left us inspired and grateful to all of our early childhood community that came together to help produce, publicize, and watch Soledad O’Brien host a gaggle of VIP’s in a Google+ Hangout about investing in babies. Then, on Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee—led by children’s champion Senator Tom Harkin (IA)—took the first steps toward making the President’s Early Learning Initiative a reality by approving funding for several key parts, including the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships grants. These grants would, of course, benefit babies.

Make no mistake about it—the #Rally4Babies was a landmark event, and the support it garnered took our breath away. What inspired us?

  • 24 national and 1 international early childhood organizations came together to cosponsor the virtual event and send a unified message about the need to support our babies’ development.

  • Many different types of speakers took time from important tasks (like running the country’s programs for children and families) to talk about the importance of early investment in babies and in the future of our country, and the efficacy of many programs that serve disadvantaged young children. I was honored to be among them.

  • During the event, we lit up Twitter all over the country and even as far away as Japan.

  • More than 180,000 individual messages have been sent to the President and Members of Congress about the need to invest in early learning for babies.

The Rally’s watchword seemed to be “up”: Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius urged scaling up programs we know work, like home visiting, Early Head Start, and high-quality child care. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants to get schools out of the catch-up business with the President’s proposed $100 billion investment in early learning. Alma Powell, Chair of the Board of America’s Promise Alliance, urged us all to talk it up—keep sending the message that both young children and their parents need us to support them. Laurie Berkner got us all up and singing right from the start.

And Jennifer Garner, actor and Artist Ambassador for Save the Children talked about her first-hand observations of how Save the Children’s home visiting program helps new moms and urged us to keep it up—the advocacy, that is. She spoke of her own frustrations with Congressional leaders who talk about how they like children and want to help children, but don’t follow through.

“We call it the bobble head problem,” explained Garner. “When it comes to putting money where their mouth is—it’s the first thing to go…it’s the first thing to let go of. No one is fighting for kids. No one is fighting for poor kids in America…So we have to do it!”

Jennifer Garner gets it that the Baby Rally is not a one-time hangout, but all of us. And it’s up to us to keep it going.

If we needed some encouragement, Tuesday’s Senate Appropriations action reinforced that our advocacy makes a difference—and good things for children can be within our grasp. The Subcommittee that sets funding for the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education—whose Secretaries hung out with us Monday—approved a bill that, we understand, would provide $1.4 billion for Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships and $750 million for preschool development grants, setting in motion achieving key parts of the President’s plan. This is a small step, to be sure, and securing even these parts faces a long road with obstacles far greater than just appropriations approval. The bigger pieces of the plan—dramatic expansion of home visiting and a new state-federal partnership to ensure preschool for all four year-olds—are in need of mandatory funding that will be hard to come by absent an overall agreement on our nation’s budgetary future.

But all the more reason to RALLY ON! Keep watching the rally video and get everyone who missed the rally to watch it as well. Keep talking to your Members of Congress. Keep letting the Administration know how important those first years of learning are. Above all, keep that sense of community that makes the #Rally4Babies a movement, not just an event.

Matthew Melmed is Executive Director of ZERO TO THREE and one of the speakers on the #Rally4Babies on July 8, 2013.

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