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Why should Georgia invest in very young children, from birth to kindergarten?  At Voices’ 6th Annual Legislative Breakfast today we heard two strong and equally compelling reasons.  Because it’s good for the economy and it is certainly good for children.

Phil Peterson, Senior VP for Aon Consulting, made the business argument:  Our workforce is both shrinking and losing its competitiveness and early childhood development is essential to getting more kids through high school and college.  Dr. Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman College and co-chair of United Way’s Early Education Commission, centered her call to action on the faces of young people, both those who are thriving and those who are barely surviving, reminding us of the real opportunities to intervene early to help families and children.

I will update this blog with copies of Mr. Peterson’s slides in the next few days.  Meanwhile, some important links were suggested to reiterate the need for investment and advocacy for young children.  Mr. Peterson co-chairs PA’s Early Education Investment Commission and is on the advisory board to Partnership for America’s Economic Success.  He also partners with Mission: Readiness in its commitment to a more prepared military.  And don’t forget Voices’ blog which has featured a number of posts on early childhood and PreK.

Pat

Over the last several weeks I have been traveling with colleagues around the state making presentations about JUSTGeorgia’s initiative, the comprehensive revision of our juvenile law code (SB 292, the Child Protection and Public Safety Act).  During these meetings we also present information on relationship building with elected officials.  I’ve been pleased to see in attendance a cross section of child advocates, child-serving agency personnel and community citizens.  Their experiences with SB 292 ranges from being aware that proposed juvenile code reform exists to being invested in seeing it actually happen.

When I ask meeting attendees if they think their legislators are aware of SB 292, a few people raise their hands.  When I ask them if they think their legislators are knowledgeable about SB 292, more hands come down than remain up and when asked about whether they think their legislators are invested in juvenile code reform, almost all of the hands come down.  We have our work cut out for us in improving outcomes for children through juvenile code reform.

My hope for those that attend these meetings is that they will take what they’ve learned, coupled with the interest and commitment that brought them to the meeting in the first place and share that information with their elected officials and their communities.  This coming Tuesday, February 23rd provides just that opportunity, when JUSTGeorgia coalition members and CASA volunteers from all over the state come together for a Day at the Capitol. It is our responsibility to not only share information with our elected officials so that they are aware of the juvenile code reform effort, but to also provide them with the information to help them become knowledgeable about, if not invested in improving the outcomes of our children through an improved juvenile code.  For more information about JUSTGeorgia and SB 292, visit www.justgeorgia.org.

The legislature voted today to take a two week break.  They will reconvene on March 8th for the 21st legislative day of the session.

Legislators stated that the break is needed to give them time to work on budget issues with the Governor.

We’ve heard that legislators are waiting to see if the revenue report from February is as dismal as January’s which were over $200 million less than had been projected. If the trend continues, legislators may have to cut more from the FY 10 amended budget which has now passed both chambers and is awaiting the appointment of a conference committee to work out differences.  Moreover, the Governor’s FY 11 budget is based upon a projection of a 4% revenue growth and on the passage of the hospital tax both of which appear unlikely.

Wednesday afternoon at the Gold Dome was dominated by a hearing on HB 307 which would impose a 1.6 % fee on hospitals. The bill is a priority of Governor Perdue’s, and he has stated that the tax is necessary to fill the $300 million shortfall in Georgia’s Medicaid program for FY 11.  Speaker after speaker, representing hospitals and physicians and the business community across the state, rose to address the House Appropriations Committee’s Special Subcommittee and express opposition to the hospital tax, which they have dubbed the “sick tax.”

 At the same time, most speakers expressed support for increasing the tax on tobacco.  They also stated that the legislature must do something to address the Medicaid shortfall, and that cutting provider rates, which is the alternative the Governor has mentioned if HB 307 does not pass, is not  acceptable.

The Fostering Connections Bill, HB  1085 sponsored by Rep. Katie Dempsey, passed the House Children and Youth Committee unanimously this afternoon.  The bill must now go to the House Rules Committee which must act to schedule it for a vote of the entire House.

One of the bright spots on any given day under the Gold Dome is watching citizen activists, many of whom have taken the day of from work or arranged child care or simply driven across the state, learn to navigate the halls and speak with their elected officials.

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting several resource coordinators (RC’s) who work to  prepare low-income Pre-K children for school by providing support services in health and wellness, child development, community resources and kindergarten readiness.  These women are clearly passionate about education and about children and they have already spent several days at the Capitol sharing stories with legislators about the effectiveness of their program which is in danger of getting cut.

Today, the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) and Voices for Georgia’s Children have released two policy briefs analyzing Governor Sonny Purdue’s proposed 2011 budget for the lottery-funded Georgia Pre-K.

The FY 2011 proposed budget would keep the lottery-funded Pre-K budget flat. It calls for an additional 2000 Pre-K slots at the expense of 75% of the Department of Early Care and Learning’s Resource Coordinator (RC) program. The proposal endangers the state’s capacity to deliver essential services for an effective high-quality Pre-K program and the states’ national ranking in this vital service.

At a time when only 58% of Georgia’s 4 year-olds are served by Georgia Pre-K and over 8, 300 children are on a waiting list, the need for additional Pre-K slots is uncontroverted. Yet, Georgia Pre-K needs to expand to meet demand AND keep Resource Coordinators who are vital to providing high-quality Pre-K experiences.

I hope you’ll raise your voices with us to support for the Resource Coordinator program and additional Pre-K slots in FY 2011.

Click here to download SEF’s Georgia Pre-K Policy Briefs.

Some say that Telluride is the next Aspen – ski resort turned thought leader.  I’m not a skier but I am a fan of the Telluride Standards, five principles for investing in early childhood education.  If you want to know more, register for Voices’ 6th annual Children’s Policy Watch at the Capitol on February 23 at 7:30 a.m. at the Freight Depot.  We have a breakfast buffet and a keynote speaker who knows the Telluride Principles from the inside. Phil Peterson, Senior VP of Aon Consulting, is also an Advisor to the Partnership for America’s Economic Success that developed the principles.  House member Penny Houston will give a legislative perspective and Dr. Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman and co-chair of the United Way Early Education Commission, will close with a call to action.

 Come and learn more!

Spent a day this week going through my wildly out-of-control email inbox and trying to catch-up on a few things – Okay, on a lot of things…my apologies to those of you who didn’t always get the most timely responses 😉

It was a lot of work, but I’m glad I did it. As overwhelmed as I feel by all the “updates” sent to me, the reality is they often provide great information. One I thought was particularly worth sharing came from Connect For Kids. They send biweekly email updates that cover a huge range of child advocacy topics. Apparently last year they counted the “hits” on each of the stories/links in those weekly updates and compiled a list of the most popular. Take a look at their website or go directly to any of the stories below that were of interest to folks all across the country.

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FROM CONNECT FOR KIDS:

The Most Popular Items from Updates in 2009

Overall, you clicked on funding alerts more than any other single category in the 2009 CFK Updates. It’s not really fair to single out a few feature items, but it is interesting. Here, in a nutshell, were your favorites:

The House passed the FY 10 Amended budget today.  The bill calls for furloughs of state personnel including teachers, caseworkers and food stamp eligibility workers and cuts to funding for independent living programs, recruitment and screen of prospective adoptive parents and domestic violence shelters.  The House also rejected the Governor’s plan to pay for certain scholarships with lottery reserves and, instead, funded those scholarships with general revenue funds.  The FY 10 Amended budget now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Update from Shelley Rose Associate Director of the Anti-Defamation League:

The House Judiciary (Non-Civil) Committee met this afternoon and gave a DO PASS to HB 927. The latest version of the bill is not on the website yet, but should be up soon. The next step is to get the bill through the Rules Committee. We encourage people to contact members of the House Rules Committee and urge them to bring the bill to the floor for a vote by the full House quickly.

Members of the Rules Committee can be found here.

Some background from Voices for Georgia’s Children:

HB 927 defines the scope of bullying, requires local school systems to work with faculty, parents, and students to adopt and enforce anti-bullying policies, and makes it easier for students and necessary for school employees to report information about bullying.

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