Whether in a big, small, mid-sized, city, town, or village — local government is uniquely positioned to improve early childhood outcomes and build a tomorrow where every child can succeed. It is through our local governments that we come together as a community. Local government sets laws, regulates actions, delivers services, and establishes programs. Unfortunately, many of our policies and practices are informed by long-standing systems of oppression and these institutional structures result in the inequities we see in our communities and early childhood outcomes.
Local government is uniquely positioned to address inequities and take action by understanding the history of how systems of oppression have influenced our institutions, policies, and practices. Local government has the influence and the power to embed equity into how our communities do business and change tomorrow’s outcomes.
Equitable policies are crucial to the NLC’s Early Childhood Success (ECS) team’s goal of ensuring that all children prenatal through 8 years reach their full potential and live safe, healthy lives. On July 28th, NLC’s ECS team, with four visiting municipal leaders from Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, and Chattanooga and attendees from around the country kicked off NLC’s early childhood municipal policy 101 webinar series with Embedding Equity in How Your City Does Business. Each visiting speaker presented a snapshot of the work being done in their city to reduce inequities and improve the lives of young children and families. Local leaders who did the following three things found success in embedding equity within their municipal programs:
Understanding the landscape will allow you to see what’s happened in your community, what’s available, what’s missing, and what’s next in your city’s journey towards an equitable future.
Thoroughly understanding the existing structures in your city is crucial when trying to align them with your goals. Are there already programs in place whose main focus is achieving equity? If so, can they be expanded? If not, can they be created? Tiffini Simoneaux, the Early Childhood Manager in the Mayor’s Office of Equity in Pittsburgh shared that her department had formerly been named the Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment. By changing the name to the Office of Equity, Mayor Peduto in Pittsburgh sharpened the focus of the work being done, using the city’s existing organizational infrastructure to jumpstart a push towards equity. A strong understanding of your city’s levers of power and existing policies make it possible for you to create policies that fit your city’s needs.
Equitable decision making engages all voices and considers who benefits, who is burdened, and who is missing from the policies and practices implemented. Questioning the status quo frequently leads to great insights, something that two presenters saw firsthand when addressing racial segregation and social mobility. Felicia Beard, of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and Dr. Devonya Goyan-Hunt, of the Black Child Development Institute in Charlotte, are both from cities with daunting statistics. Buffalo is the sixth most segregated large American city, while Charlotte ranked last in social mobility out of the fifty largest American cities. In Buffalo, government and business leaders came together to create the Greater Buffalo Equity Roundtable to learn about racial equity issues the city faces. Buffalo is taking action as a community and changing how businesses support their employees. In Charlotte, an Opportunity Task Force and a Community Equity Committee were created to identify and work to address inequities within Mecklenburg County’s educational system. These committees and taskforces get the community engaged, and are an important step in creating equitable policy, but they require initiative. The first step in fixing a structural problem is identifying it, and the only way to identify a structural problem is to question if the structure makes sense. This means asking who a structure benefits, who it burdens, and who it doesn’t include in its conversations.
Using data to track impact helps leaders know if their actions are having the intended impact and monitor for unintended consequences. Success isn’t limited to socio-economic inequity. Disparities across races, ethnicities, religions, genders, and geographic locations can be addressed more easily when there’s data to see what works and what doesn’t. Additionally, it is important to monitor impact within specific age groups, prenatal to age 3, PreK ages 3 & 4s, and Kindergarten through 3rd grade, to understand how young children are impacted across the early childhood continuum. Roundtables and committees are necessary steps in a city’s path to equity, but they alone don’t change the situation on the ground. In order to know if a policy is working, cities are tracking data. Ariel Ford, Director of the Office of Early Learning in Chattanooga, noted that before the COVID-19 pandemic, Chattanooga’s unemployment rate was 4% while its child poverty rate was 32%. Data like this allows policymakers in Chattanooga to do two things. First, it identifies a clear problem: Having a job isn’t enough for parents in Chattanooga. While unemployment is low, a third of their children live in poverty. Second, it provides a way to track success. Policies implemented to reduce child poverty have a starting point to work from, and the trends in the data will show their effectiveness.
Keep these best practices in mind to assist you in embedding equity in how your city does business.
Embedding Equity in How Your City Does Business is the first of a four-part series in Early Childhood Municipal Policy 101. The series is designed to help leaders affect positive change in their communities through municipal policy. For more helpful advice from leaders in the field, join the ECS team on November 17th, 2:00pm-3:00pm ET, for the second webinar the series, Navigating the Political Landscape.
Elijah Asdourian is an intern with the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families