For those who are interested in the subject of early childhood education, you may have read a recent article in Seven Days in which I was quoted. Calling someone out publicly is not something I enjoy doing – and it’s tough living in a community where often the only way for public officials to shift their perspective is to spend years trying to work with them until you’ve been ignored so badly that you feel like you have no other options.
During a conversation with some early ed folks after the article came out, I posited that a big issue with Mayor Weinberger’s early ed initiative is that there is no clear goal, if any goal at all, and it’s hard to follow someone who makes mistakes, who won’t include local experts and professionals in the process, who won’t use their political capital on an issue that they say is very important to them, especially if you don’t know what their end goal is. Add a lack of communication (except when election season rolls around), and the end goal is all the more murkier.
While organizations like the Permanent Fund have a clear goal, that of universal publicly funded early education (which leads one to question how much they support the current initiative and why), without a larger goals, these legislative victories may end up missing the mark.
Is the goal for organizations and politicians to create a single policy initiative, like universal early education, or is it a means to a larger end, that all children and their families grow up healthy, that all children born in Burlington live in safe housing, eat healthy foods, learn in school without (too many) distractions. There’s an idea in the healthcare community that food is healthcare, that housing is healthcare, since without them your health deteriorates quickly. This is an idea that our policymakers need to take to heart when it comes to children. Being in a early ed setting 8 hours a day is one part (and a large one) of what should be the end goal, making sure children live and grow up in safe and healthy environments.
Yet too often policymakers see early education as the end goal, the solution that will solve most other problems. Yet if families don’t make enough money, with a low minimum wage, to put healthy food on the table, if families cannot afford to live in safe housing since our city spends very few resources on building permanently affordable, low-income housing for families, if families with deep levels of trauma cannot afford healthcare and therapy, and instead deal with stress in harmful ways (smoking, drinking, drug use, abuse), then publicly funded early childhood education will not help the growing number of young children and families who struggle to survive in Burlington.
The goal of the mayor’s early childhood initiative, and frankly every politician in the state, should be that every child regardless of income or background can grow up in healthy and safe environments, and we should be forming our housing, economic, and education policies around this goal. While it won’t be cheap, a holistic approach can support our children from every angle and ensure our governmental policies live out to our values.