Policymakers, System Leaders Convene in New Orleans for the 2019 Early Childhood Leadership Summit

The Hunt Institute assembled teams from 14 states in New Orleans, Louisiana on June 24-25 for the 2019 Early Childhood Leadership Summit, which we co-convened with our partners at the BUILD Initiative. The Summit, which featured presentations by some of the field’s top resource experts and facilitated state team planning, was held in advance of BUILD’s 2019 Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) Conference.

The Summit brought together a diverse mix of state lawmakers, gubernatorial staff, and early childhood systems leaders from Arkansas, California, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina and Virginia. In advance of the Summit, participants were provided both an issue brief designed to introduce them to the importance of the early years and state data packets (see state links above) highlighting key demographic and outcome data for their individual states.

Under the leadership of Javaid Siddiqi, President & CEO of The Hunt Institute and Susan Hibbard, Executive Director of the BUILD Initiative, we designed the agenda to engage participants in meaningful discussion and prepare participants for the Summit’s culminating activity: the establishment of measurable state team goals to be supported by The Hunt Institute over the coming year. As a former state system leader, I can attest to how rare – and important – these collaborative planning opportunities are, particularly when they include a chance to plan thoughtfully with legislative leaders outside of the frenetic environment of the legislative session.  

The Summit kicked off with a presentation by Ellen Galinsky, Chief Science Officer of the Bezos Family Foundationwho shared the current research on brain development and connected it to implications for policymakers. Highlights of Ellen’s recommendations are below:

Ellen’s keynote was followed by an introduction to state early childhood systems, moderated by our colleague Rachel Schumacher, who serves as The Hunt Institute’s Senior Advisor on Early Childhood. Panelist Karen Ponder, founding Director of NC Smart Start and Distinguished Fellow at the BUILD Initiative, shared her experiences working around the nation on the creation of efficient and effective early childhood systems. Reggie Bicha, Executive Director of Shine Early Learning, shared lessons from his eight years as Director of the Colorado Department of Human Services, and Dr. Cristina Pacione-Zayas of the Erikson Institute offered insights on how policymakers can build systems around the needs of diverse families.

After a robust discussion, participants entered the first of two facilitated state team planning sessions, exploring state-level demographic and outcome data assembled specifically for their discussions. During this time, facilitated conversation centered around health and education disparities through an equity lens and specific strengths and challenges of their states’ early childhood systems. It was such a treat to listen as state leaders shared their ideas in this safe, collaborative setting.

Dr. Tonja Rucker of the National League of Cities moderated a discussion focused on innovative state and local approaches to early childhood funding, during which the group welcomed Jason Williams, Vice President of the New Orleans City Council. Under Williams’ leadership the city recently doubled its early childhood budget, creating an Office of Youth and Families within the office of Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

The panel also included Rep. Dave Pinto, who shared the details of a new legislative committee on Early Childhood Finance and Policy, which he chairs in Minnesota, and Kristin Bernhard of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, who offered details related to the state of Georgia’s early childhood contracting model, which she developed as the state’s former Deputy Commissioner for Early Learning.

Over dinner, participants were treated to remarks by Mike Petters, CEO of Huntington-Ingalls, the nation’s largest military ship builder. Petters shared his belief that early education is a matter of both workforce development and national security as we prepare for the challenges of the coming decades. Mike’s presentation was definitely a highlight of the Summit. You can read his prepared remarks in full here.

Dr. Sherri Killins Stewart of The BUILD Initiative led a panel discussion on day two in which three respected state systems leaders reflected on their states’ recent accomplishments. Jovon Perry of the Minnesota Department of Human Services explained how the use of a racial equity model led to the identification of disparities and the adoption of a “whole family system” mindset that reinforced the need for collaboration across multiple sectors. Tonya Hall-Coston of the New Jersey Department of Education described how the state has improved communication and collaboration across all agencies serving young children and their families, while Tonya Williams of the Arkansas Department of Human Services described how the agency used data to help increase the percentage of providers participating in the state’s quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) from 12 percent to 71 percent.

During a final, facilitated state team planning session, state team members worked collaboratively to identify measurable, short-term goals to improve their state’s early childhood systems. These goals, which ranged from the establishment of legislative early childhood caucuses to the integration of participating lawmakers into existing state planning initiatives will be the focus of The Hunt Institute’s early childhood technical assistance to states over the coming year.

The Summit ended with parting words from four-term Vermont Governor Jim Douglas (2003-2011) and The Hunt Institute Board Member, who reminded participants that collaboration between parties, sectors, bodies of government, and public-private partners is foundational to the success of building an early childhood system that can be sustained in the years to come.

Key takeaways and supplemental resources, which you can view here, were provided to all participants.

We want to thank all who attended – and our partners at the BUILD Initiative – for a great convening and look forward to helping these states achieve their goals over the coming year as the Institute continues its work toward a national early childhood convening.


Author

Dr. Dan Wuori
Director of Early Learning

The Hunt Institute