David Lawrence, Jr., founder of the Florida Children’s Movement, inspired a gathering of business and community leaders early this week at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.
The goal of the Business Champions for Children event—co-sponsored by the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, the Springfield Business Leaders for Education, the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce and The Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation’s Reading Success by 4th Grade initiative—was to enhance the momentum in Massachusetts for making investments in young children, as Lawrence has done in Florida.
According to a story in Springfield’s Republican newspaper:
With businesses crying out for better-prepared workers, pre-kindergarten programs in Massachusetts might be about to have their moment as a priority.
But it will take more funding, more cooperation and continued work by the business community, lawmakers, policy experts and the retired publisher of the Miami Herald told area business leaders Monday.
‘This is not a quick fix,’ former Herald publisher David Lawrence said in remarks at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. ‘I have been focused on this for 18 years.’
Lawrence drew on his experience in Florida, telling the audience a broad-based public policy campaign to improve early education for 3- and 4-year-olds needs to focus on every child in every family – not just the poor and underserved.
And, it must include the business community.
In Florida, as one of the first outcomes of Lawrence’s efforts, voters approved a constitutional amendment for early childhood education in 2002 that became operational in the 2005-06 school year. The program pays for three hours per day of instruction for 4-year-olds at public schools and at private and faith-based schools that meet requirements. Although voluntary, 70 percent of the state's 4-year-olds participate. The Florida Children’s Movement continues to grow in scope and success, with Lawrence now chairing the board of The Children’s Trust, which raises money to sustain the campaign.
Monday’s Business Champions for Children event was designed to also share the great work that is happening in Massachusetts, with two recently-released research reports/blueprints from the House and Senate that focus on early childhood education and the needs of children from birth to 8 years old.
JD Chesloff, head of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable and a member of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s Early Education and Care Business Advisory Group, and Senator Eric Lesser, both spoke at the event about the reports from the House – “The Business Imperative for Early Education” – and the Senate’s “Kids First” blueprint.
Chesloff cited the mission of the work of the House, which is to “provide systems and management expertise, strategic guidance, and data-based programmatic and financial advice focused on the critical needs of the early education and care workforce.”
It was the Speaker’s contention, Chesloff said, that focusing on the early education workforce was the most meaningful way to move an early childhood agenda, which would benefit the children and families being served, naturally, but would also bring an increased level of dignity and professionalism to the field.
Senator Lesser described the goal of the “Kids First” initiative, “If we were to put the right policies and resources in place, we can make sure every child born is given the support he or she needs, from prenatal care to early childhood education to quality schools and higher education opportunities free of crushing debt, we could transform the Commonwealth in a generation.”
Lawrence left us with the powerful words of Fred Rogers, aka Mister Rogers: “Our goal as a nation must be to make sure that no child is denied the chance to grow in knowledge and character from the very first years.” In Mister Rogers’ neighborhood, he added, “every child is welcome into the world of learning – not just a few, not just ones from certain neighborhoods, but every child.”