President Obama visits the Sunflower State to Talk about Quality, Affordable Child Care

By: Leadell Ediger, Executive Director, Child Care Aware of Kansas:

When an email from the White House came into my inbox, I paid attention!  That’s the situation I found myself in, in mid-January.  I was delighted to find that Child Care Aware® of Kansas was being offered two tickets to attend the President’s Remarks at the University of Kansas.   It really didn’t take me more than 2 minutes to look at my calendar and send a quick response back to the White House, stating Absolutely!  Much to my surprise, on Wednesday (the day before the President’s visit) we were offered another seven tickets!  Of course I said we’d take them.  Within a matter of one hour, I called the CCR&Rs in Kansas, two child care center directors and one high school teacher to extend the offer.  All 7 people immediately said “YES”!

Dean Olson (The Family Conservancy), Elaine Edwards (center director) Deb Crowl (center director), Leadell Ediger (CCR&R Network Director), Cheryl Firsching (Child Start), Amanda Ediger (High school teacher), Angie Saenger (CCR&R Network), Tanya Koehn (CCR&R Network).

Dean Olson (The Family Conservancy), Elaine Edwards (center director) Deb Crowl (center director), Leadell Ediger (CCR&R Network Director), Cheryl Firsching (Child Start), Amanda Ediger (High school teacher), Angie Saenger (CCR&R Network), Tanya Koehn (CCR&R Network).

From the email from the White House, I learned that there was a specific procedure to picking up the tickets, so off to Lawrence, Kansas, we went on Wednesday afternoon.  The pickup time was between 4 – 6 pm.  We got there at 5 and waited an hour to get our 9 precious tickets.  Much discussion took place because we got a “red” ticket, versus a “green” or a “white” ticket, how close to the front would we actually be?

Thursday morning dawned quite chilly in Lawrence, Kansas but an electric feel was in the air when we snaked our way through the waiting line.   We made arrangements to meet one of our colleagues from the Kansas City area outside the arena where the event was being held; luckily I got his cell phone number just to be safe.  Standing was the name of the game that day, standing outside in the cold, standing for 3 hours inside waiting and standing, applauding, cheering for a short 35 minute window when the President spoke.  What an exciting 35 minutes though!  When the President finally made his entrance, we were within 30 feet of him and had perfect viewing!

Front: Deb Crowl, Cheryl Firsching, Leadell Ediger Middle row: Elaine Edwards, Tanya Koehn, Dean Olson Back row: Reva Wywadis and Angie Saenger

Front: Deb Crowl, Cheryl Firsching, Leadell Ediger
Middle row: Elaine Edwards, Tanya Koehn, Dean Olson
Back row: Reva Wywadis and Angie Saenger

President Obama strolled in with his shirt sleeves rolled up, ready to go!  It was very obvious, the President knows how to excite a crowd, and he did so by starting off with saying “he’s a Kansas boy”.  This statement got a big roar from the crowd.  Yes, the President has deep roots in Kansas.  He then shared his message, that middle-class economics should be the focus!  This included a healthy discussion about child care!   After listening only days before to the State of the Union address, I knew he had big plans to strengthen child care, but again in Lawrence the President said “It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us”, which brought, again, a huge roar from the crowd.  During this short address, I heard the President’s passion for young children and their working families.  His persistence and dedication to wanting to help the middle-class and how much he values and supports, not only early learning, but learning for all!  He showed his impatience to get the job done.  An added bonus for me and something I didn’t expect to see was his delightful humor.

After the speech, the President interacted with the crowd by shaking many hands.  Because we were so close to the stage, before he left the auditorium he shook the hands of four of the nine early childhood folks that went with us!   This clearly will be a day that we’ll remember for years to come.

 

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Working Families Summit Recap

working families summit

On Monday, I joined President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden at the Omni Hotel in Washington D.C. for the first ever White House Summit on Working Families. The place was packed with policymakers, business and labor leaders, economists, reporters and their cameramen, and of course many advocates for working families, including parents and small business owners from across the country. The sum of us gathered for opening remarks with the same questions on our minds: What will it take to help working families succeed in the 21st century workplace, and how can we, as a nation, make it happen?

The theme of the day revealed itself early, as Dr. Jill Biden spoke about her personal experiences as a mother of three, working and going to school full-time in earlier years. Her husband and Vice President and later the Obamas would also speak to their own experiences of struggling to balance their careers with family and their children. The message was clear that although issues vary from one individual to another, no one is alone in these experiences. All working families experience these challenges.

I was very interested to see Jonathan Cohn, senior editor at New Republic and author of the Hell of American Daycare, would be moderating the opening plenary. Not surprisingly the issue of children’s health and safety in America’s child care system was brought up almost immediately. Jonathan raised the question of working families’ accessibility to quality child care, and though the panelist varied from Ivy League economics professor to Global Chairman and company CEOs, all seemed to agree that among the most basic needs of working families is the need for high-quality, early learning environments… Early learning environments where children of America’s working families can flourish in a safe and healthy setting that will stimulate their brains during the most critical of time in their development.

President Obama took the stage to talk about bringing the American economy into the 21st century and prepare workplaces to support working families in the coming decades.  He touched on the importance of spending time with family, the necessity of having flexibility in the workplace, the struggles of the “sandwich” generation who must deal with raising children, maintaining their careers, and caring for aging parents. He discussed his and Michelle’s experience as young working parents and the struggles they faced, and what he wants as a father for his two daughters.

President Barack Obama

“…I take it personally, because I am the father of two unbelievable young ladies.  And I want them to be able to have families.  And I want them to be able to have careers.  And I want them to go as far as their dreams will take them.  And I want a society that supports that.“

And perhaps most importantly, the President talked at length about child care in America. He quoted directly from Child Care Aware® of America’s 2013 Parents and the High Cost of Child Care report when he pointed out that “in 31 states, decent child care costs more than in-state college tuition.” Obama went on to say that America must find a solution to rising child care costs and the burden it puts on so many families. In his own words, “child care, workplace flexibility, a decent wage… these are not frills these are basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses; they should be part of our bottom line as a society.”

As fate would have it, my phone lit up just as Obama spoke about juggling careers and family obligations. I looked down and saw my daughter’s name appear on the screen.  Knowing she was with her grandparents visiting from Arizona.  I had to giggle. Really? Now?  The text exchange that followed went something like this:

ME: “Can’t talk right now. I’ll call you later”

MY DAUGHTER: “Kk”

MY DAUGHTER: “I’m just really bored, what are you doing?”

ME:  “Guess who this is?? President Obama!!” (with accompanying photo as I sat tables away from the President)

ASHLYN: “Cool, what is he doing?”

ME: “Giving a speech about kids like you and working parents like me!”

ASHLYN: “Oh”

ASHLYN: “I’m still bored”

I found it so ironic that just hours earlier I had listened to Vice President Biden emphasize the importance of every day moments, of which I am fortunate to have many with my children, and then, on that particular day, during that particular hour, my daughter was reaching out to me – at work – listening to President Obama!

Vice Preseident Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden

The President concluded his remarks by urging the audience to take action.

“As long as Congress refuses to act on these policies, we’re going to need you to raise your voices.  We need you to tell Congress don’t talk about how you support families, actually support families.  Don’t talk the talk.  We want you to walk the walk.

In the meantime, if Congress will not act, we’re going to need mayors to act.  We’ll need governors and state legislators to act.  We need CEOs to act.  And I will promise you, you will have a President who will take action to support working families.”

Later, the First Lady’s remarks echoed this call, saying “It’s up to us to change the conversation… That’s the job of all of us and it starts here… These conversations have to continue at the regional level. This is just the beginning. And it has to be a movement, and there has to be momentum, and it has to continue to the point where the pressure is real.” So let me also close by asking you to raise your voice. Help us walk the walk. Or as Maria Shriver put it, “We all have a story to tell, tell it.”

Lynette M. Fraga with Maria Shriver

One way to tell your state’s child care story is to share our 2014 State Fact Sheets with legislators and policymakers in your community. Child Care Aware® of America’s state fact sheets  provide data useful to child care advocates, policymakers, and program administrators as they make decisions around child care programs and expenditures in their state. The fact sheets look at the cost, use, and supply of child care in individual states, as well as family characteristics related to the need of child care, services provided by Child Care Resource and Referral agencies, and the child care workforce.

Visit usa.childcareaware.org  for the latest data on your state, or visit the workingfamiliessummit.org for more ways to get involved.

You can watch the President’s full remarks from the Summit below:

 

From Rhetoric to Reality: Inspiring the Nation to Action

SOTU2014Steeped in history and required by the United States Constitution, the President is required “from time to time” to give the Congress information about the State of the Union and to recommend for their consideration measures he deems “necessary and expedient.”

It’s more than a great speech- it is an opportunity to focus the nation on key national priorities. Some are remembered for their historic moments like President Bush’s first after September 11th when he encouraged “We go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”

President Clinton when he called on Congress to create “The Information Superhighway” or President Kennedy challenging our nation to land a man on the moon. And who can forget the 50-year-old declaration from President Johnson on a “War on human Poverty.”

Focusing on early education
Last year’s State of the Union Speech by President Obama held that same hope for child advocates everywhere. For the first time in a generation, the President placed early education front and center- much more than a mere mention in a laundry list of domestic priorities.

President Obama reminded us and educated others that a child’s first years of life are critical for building the early foundation needed for success later in school. He made it about education but also about economics, noting the fact that high-quality early learning programs can help level the playing field for lower-income families and put them on the path to economic security and self-reliance. The President took the historic step of calling on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool for every child in America and asserting that a zip code should never predetermine the quality of any child’s educational opportunities.

The good news is that tonight, during his 5th State of the Union address, the President stated, “Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education… we can’t wait. So, just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children.”

The great news is that he and his administration are already taking important steps to turn that rhetoric into reality.

More than talk
Late last year, early childhood education was one of the biggest winners in the most recent federal Appropriations bill – receiving a more than $1 billion increase in federal funding for Head Start, Early Head Start, Child Care and grants to states. Congress clearly heard the overwhelming support for early learning from key voices across the country including business leaders, law enforcement officials, economists, governors – and many more. This increased federal funding will more than restore early childhood education sequestration cuts, as well as provide a significant increase in funding. A bill reauthorizing CCDBG has been introduced and has bi-partisan support in the Senate. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act has been introduced and has bipartisan support in the House.

Making investments in high-quality early childhood care and education is a clear economic solution backed by a proven body of research, high returns on investment, and it’s the right priority for our policymakers.

By increasing federal investments, we can ensure that our children do better in school, acquire the skills necessary to compete in the 21stcentury economy, get higher-paying jobs, rely less on social programs and contribute more to the economy as adults. We also know that learning begins from birth and that quality affordable child care, from infancy, is critical to our nation’s families. We will continue to “raise our hands” and our voices this year to ensure that high quality child care is a major part of the nation’s early education agenda.

To draw from past inspirations from our President, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.”

So let’s do what works and make sure that none of our children start the race of life already behind.

Get more:
Follow Child Care Aware® of America live tweets from the White House
Discuss the issues live: Child Care Aware® of America 2014 Symposium
Child care provider reacts to Cost of Care Report
Strong Start for America’s Children Act