Circle Time

An Early Investment into Our Community with Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown

August 14, 2020 South Side Early Learning Season 1 Episode 3
Circle Time
An Early Investment into Our Community with Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown
Show Notes Transcript

On the show today we talk with Columbus City Council President Pro Temp Elizabeth Brown. From City Hall to the White House, how one investment can build brains and strengthen neighborhoods. From South Side Early Learning in Columbus, OH gather round for Circle Time.

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Colin 0:01
On the show today from City Hall to the White House, how one investment can build brains and strengthen neighborhoods from South Side Early Learning in Columbus, OH. Gather round for Circle Time.

Colin 0:21
Welcome to Circle Time and good as always to have you. I'm column again as CEO of South Side Early Learning and your hosts on the podcast. One of my guiding principles is the idea that a stronger tomorrow begins with a more playful today. The belief that the best investment we can make into our communities is an investment into our youngest learners and their families. And this week's episode of circle time. We chat with Columbus City Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown and discussed the relationship between early childhood education and City Hall, who sets the rules and regulations where it is funding and other support come from. And how can we build a system that is truly equitable for all? This episode is just too good not to dive into. So let's jump right in.

Colin 1:04
Councilmember Elizabeth Brown, welcome to Circle Time and thank you so much for taking time out of your day to chat with me today. Since I've been in Columbus, you have been a huge champion for early childhood education and I'm super excited to have you on the show and talk a little bit more about the role early childhood has on community development and the impact that it has for our community at large. But before we got too far into the questions, I wanted to start by asking you to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about why you are so passionate about early education.

Liz 1:39
Well, thank you Colin. It's great to be here and to be able to join you virtually as we're doing all things these days. As you said, I'm on Columbus City Council and the President Pro Tem of Columbus City Council. But you know when I look at this conversation around early childhood, the mindset I bring to it is not just as a council member who has to think about the overall health of our community in the long term health of our community, but also as a parent myself, I have a four-year-old and a 2-year-old. And as an activist and a member of a broader community in which I firmly believe that. We should all want for everyone's children the same kind of outcomes we want for our own. I think that if we did that, this world that we lived in would be a much better place, so it's kind of an overall value that I try to bring to my approach to working on early childhood education issues. But what does that mean in public policy practice? You and I have worked together, I've worked with South Side Early Learning on sort of the broader child care landscape in Columbus and how to make sure that every child in there, what do we say? say? 1st 1st 2000 days is that yes, every child in their first 2000 days has access to high quality early learning. The reason for that is that the city that we're building for the future firmly relies on the investments that we're making in kids today. I have the position on Council of sharing our education committee, which, because the schools are run by separate jurisdiction, right the Columbus City School Board the Education Committee of council focuses on the Early Learning Landscape and, you know, we have a set of funds that we spend to try to expand access. So I share that committee, but I also, on the other hand chair our Recreation and Parks Committee, which does a lot of youth development work. It's not all it does, you know. We also provide recreation and park activities for people of all ages, but that's what we really do, especially now try to focus on resources for youth in the middle of this pandemic and all of that is a continuum, right? If we want to be in the position to be able to invest in kids later in life, we need to start by investing in them earlier in life.

Colin 4:28
Yeah, and I think that's actually a nice segue into the first question that we have from one of our parents, the I guess, juxtaposition isn't the right phrase, the difference between something like the Education Committee and parks and Rec which you're as you just said involved with both the question that I have here is "For years I've heard about the importance of early childhood education and childcare, and I understand the early childhood helps students get ready for kindergarten. But how does early childhood help the community as a whole?" and I think when we consider city budgets or, City Department it's very easy to see the youth development side of things and the impact that it has on our community through Parks and Recs. Obviously an investment into parks and rec also helps with the beautification of our neighborhoods and having a safe park and a safe place to play available, but I think it's a little bit harder when you think about education. So I was wondering if you could help make that connection as to how early childhood is actually yielding returns later on for the community as a whole. The community at large.

Liz 5:40
Yeah. Absolutely, um, so I one thing I like to try to stress is the idea of early childhood education as infrastructure that we need to invest in it like we do invest in infrastructure. It is a building block. It is a public good and that's why I love this question because I think that it's helpful for those of us who are adults and far beyond those years of early childhood development or who may not have little ones running around or may have little ones running around. It's helpful for us to sit back a moment and break it down, and here's the way I think of it. So first of all, the numbers tell us a lot when you look at a lot of studies have been done following children who got these early on investments through life and saw that it leads to greater income attainment and educational attainment. All of these kind of positive outcomes more likely to graduate high school, and, you know, have access to a middle income job. Things like that. It's of course, not a silver bullet. An if after you've invested in early childcare investment falls off for that child, right? So if we prepare a child very well for kindergarten, and then we say, "OK, our work is done" and that equity model in public education is never fulfilled in that child is under-invested in, you don't keep realizing those gains that the child received in the 1st 2000 days, but it is an important building block that has to be in place in order for those later investments in a child's life to take hold as well as they can. There's a very simple kind of scientific explanation to that which I find fascinating, and I will caveat that I am not a scientist, but I have seen people present on really the brain chemistry happening for kids. The first time I saw this presentation my daughter was, I want to say like 12 or 14 months, she's 4 1/2 now, and it was Laura Justice at the Crane Center. She talked about the way that in those very early days before a child is 3, there are so much brain activity happening inside that child's head to connect the dots on in the world and those the firing of those synapses actually build brain matter. I'm using none of the correct scientific terms, just...

Colin 8:21
You're doing very well as someone who knows Laura's work very well. You are right on the money and maybe we have to do an episode with Laura to talk about this as a follow-up, but keep going.

Liz 8:34
Great OK. I'm gonna keep going down this path. So all of these connections are being made and it's building the brain matter that literally serves as the foundation for all future learning. So it's critical time that I mean honestly, we can never get back. I hate saying that because it sounds almost fatalistic. Like well, if we don't do this, there's no hope for that child. It's obviously not true. It's obviously not true, but anyone who's ever been apparent knows why wouldn't she want to give your kids early advantages that help later on right? Like it is a no brainer. Excuse the pun. To do this early work to set up the foundation once you understand that brain science kids are able to learn better and then all of the rest of these investments that we make in kid throughout school and I know there's so much more work to do there to really fulfill the equity progress of public education. But you know, we're trying to make every investment pay off and then I mean this is early childhood development is a long-term gain. You're doing good things for kids now that helps them and help their parents and then that investment pays of- 18 years down the line when those same people enter higher education or the workforce, or some combination of the two. So I that's why I see it as community development work. The last thing I'll note, which I think has been put into high relief by the COVID-19 pandemic, is that when we fail to invest, well, I'll just I'll make it personal, right? So I, I can't come to work and do my job at its fullest if I don't know that my child is well taken care of, right? If I don't have the confidence that my children are being well taken care of their safe there, hopefully, stimulated it is much harder to do whatever job I'm being sent to work to do, and mine is a community focus job with being City Council, but fill in the blank. It doesn't matter what it is. It doesn't matter if I'm a cook in the kitchen. If I'm an engineer sitting in a in an office and the COVID-19 pandemic, which took kids out of care settings. You kids and younger kids and really extended parents into having to make impossible choices about how to care for them, really demonstrated the compromise to everyone's productivity when we don't have comprehensive, solid and dignified solutions for care for their children. So it's a right now investment in the workforce and a 20 years from now investment in the workforce which leads to healthy communities.

Colin 11:34
Yeah, if we could, I'd like to talk a little bit about that investment. And what does it look like, and it dovetails nicely into the second question that we have here. I'm sure your news feeds and your favorite news outlet, whatever that is, looks a lot like mine where it seems the only things that are every other day in the headlines is going to be something about the election, something about the pandemic and then, oddly enough, but uh, a little bit reassuring to me because of the time in the work that I do in the early childhood, space is a lot of focus, energy, and attention around the fragility of the early childhood infrastructure, workforce, and what the pandemic could potentially leave for us in terms of the availability of slots and programming. And the question that I have here is one of our listeners is also picked up on this it seems, and that their newsfeed looks it seems very similar. And the question is, what can they do as parents or community members to get government officials to support the idea of an expanded early childhood public option? Or maybe even a universal program so that it can become a reality and it can move away from the doom and gloom type of news articles and we can talk about the growth and the opportunity that we have for every child to have this opportunity for a strong foundation and to see the returns of those investments. So I'm asking to put on your advocacy hat a little bit which I know is there, I know it's one of the hats that you wear, but to talk about, how can the community get involved in really championing these ideas around, you know an expansion of early childhood accessibility.

Liz 13:26
Yeah, that's a great question, and I have to before getting to the broader and longer-term answer, just say a bit about the current threat to high-quality early childhood, so the change in child care right now has been, you understand this Colin and you know there are a whole bunch of new regulations on how you can serve your kids in your families. You, I think in many ways probably welcome those regulations 'cause it means you're going to be able to do so more safely, but it puts a real strain on being able to make ends meet given that we have never invested in childcare as public infrastructure each individual provider is essentially left to just figure it outright. Take all the tools you had before this which weren't sufficient. Refashion those tools and make them work five times as hard, with really nothing. No additional help, so...

Colin 14:33
And, sorry, to clarify. Here we're talking about things like the reduced ratios, the change in sanitizing, the cleaning procedure, the things that we tried to help with and talked a little bit about in that Reopening Childcare Playbook that we put out with Future Ready Columbus. Those are the things you're referring to, correct? 

Liz 14:51
That's exact what I mean. The PPE and then honestly, you know this is just a stressful environment to be carrying for other people into. I mean, I'm sure you have an incredible group of teachers in your center, but I know that this is a stressful time for them as it is for all of us. So that's a dynamic too, although it doesn't have the same dollars and sense behind it as reduced ratios, but it matters. So this is a real threat and there have been estimates across the country that, um, CAP did Center for American Progress, did a study that estimated that the threat to or the change sort of for providers threatens to close as many as 50% providers. It could be that high or 40% an in Ohio. That would mean 200,000 fewer slots for kids in centers serving in the 1st 2000 days, basically, that's a real threat. We at the city of Columbus cannot control what the federal government does. I did write letters to our congressional delegation urging that they invest $50 billion dollars nationally and the early childhood landscape because it's so critical that we don't lose what we already had, 'cause it or what we already had was not enough exactly. But we certainly don't want to start from farther back. We need to build further, so we've done that advocacy, but then also at the city level, we got CARE Act funding and so are I did in our last council meeting. A family infrastructure package to try to invest in our early eligible child care providers. So we did a $6.2 million dollar investment for eligible child care providers just to help plug this hole so that child care providers don't fall backward from where we started pre-pandemic.

Colin 17:00
And we are very appreciative of that support from Council, so thank you for that.

Liz 17:07
You are welcome.

Colin 17:07
My question is if you were a parent listening and you were interested in joining individuals like yourself and myself in advocating our congressional delegation or advocating even City Council, how would you start that conversation? How do you go if you've never written a congressional letter before how do you share your voice in that kind of way? I want to make sure that we're able to educate and share that. Also, 'cause I think it's a really useful tool and something that's a little bit intimidating. If you've never done it before. As silly as that may sound.

Liz 17:45
No, absolutely uhm. So I think that I think you want to think to yourself. Ask yourself, um, where you want to use your advocacy voice. Like do you want to focus on this urgent COVID-19 pandemic problem? Do you want to focus on the longer term solutions? We don't have to choose. You can do both, but but I think because there are current events sitting before the Congress and sitting before the council. It gives you an entree. Uhm, you can write up your thoughts. You can email them, email addresses and phone numbers are all available publicly online to any of your representatives. If you feel intimidated about writing all that up, oftentimes advocacy organizations have, you know, places on their websites where you can go and get you can sign onto a letter or use a sign on letter the language of it to kind of craft your own message that you would want to email folks, and that's a way to the Ground Work I think is one example who has been really engaged on this 50 billion dollar investment they want to see Congress make. And don't feel the pressure to be, I gotta know exactly what bill an exactly what number I am fighting for. Honestly don't feel that pressure I just laid out to you for anyone who's listening a current battle in the Congress. The US Senate it has to take up some version of the US House past Heroes Act. There is something moving right now, but in no way do you have to feel that pressure to always know exactly what the current events are in order to make your voice heard on something you care about and the broader longer term point that I want to make sure I hit too is this, you know, overall investment in universal access to high quality early childhood education. The way that that's being addressed across the country right now it's mostly being left up to local communities. It's mostly being left up to cities-- by city, by city-- which means that cities with fewer resources basically will never be able to answer the problem because they just don't have as many resources to use. There is an example right here in Ohio where Toledo tried to get about initiative passed earlier this year to provide universal pre K. And it failed, right? And, that's a real travesty for the community. The mayor was behind it, but it didn't pass. So you anyone listening as a member of the city of Columbus as a resident can write your local officials and let us know you want to see greater investments in early childhood. But it's also really important to direct those calls to the state and the Congress because they have the power to expand access and uhm, the Congress. And hopefully whoever is elected in November, really has the power to change the game in national investment in early childhood education. That's what we need if we're actually going to do this hard work of giving, leveling the playing field for every child in those first 2000 days.

Colin 21:13
Another listener shared that they have lived here in Columbus their entire life, and their very supportive of the community, but they feel is, though every year they are being asked to support either a new initiative or a component of our schools through taxes and infrastructure, like you mentioned in Toledo, for early childhood's does have to go to the voters more often than not, and as someone without young children, the question that the listener has is "Why should they care about an expansion of an early childhood program as a policy initiative?" so they may believe that every child should have access but the question here is why in your view, is that something that should fall into the community and not operate from maybe an investment into high quality programs that then operate off of, say, private tuition dollars?

Liz 22:11
Well, I think that that kind of goes back to what I was. what I was saying a little bit earlier about how the long-term payoff is so clear with early childhood investments, and I really appreciate this question because I do think that it's that it's hard for people to kind of put together sometimes. When our said moment ago I talked, I mentioned leveling the playing field for in those first 2000 days and I try to think about a lot of my work, as you know, what are we doing to level the playing field, right? Equalize opportunity. Bring an equity mindset and the best time to level the playing field is in those first 2000 days is in that early childhood time because the science bares it out that those investments, when done, is the building block for everything in the future. So if we want to create a community that is more equitable that the gaps in opportunity are not so wide, the gaps in low income earners and the wealthy are not so wide. A critical ingredient to that, there are other ingredients I will not say that early childhood is the only want things like housing. And uh, and access to quality education throughout life. All of that wages everything but a critical ingredient is investment in early childhood education. So I think that when this community member who wrote you is thinking. It is not so much a question of if we invest this year, will I see the difference as a nonparent next year? I don't think that that's up. That's the question. The question is, if I'm interested in a better, healthier community for the long term for myself this has to be an ingredient.

Colin 24:22
One final question for you today. So and when you put on your early childhood hat and you think through the Dream Program or the dream initiative that you could possibly have, what would that look like? So we've talked about mine. I have had the opportunity and I'm very fortunate to have had it to show you what I think a universal infrastructure could look like that incorporates public funds, our employers, our parents in a very comprehensive way, that's a little bit different than most communities, and that is my early childhood dream. My question for you is what is yours look like? What does it look like when Columbus has a robust early childhood and early education infrastructure that we both believe so passionately in?

Liz 25:14
Um, that's a great question. I think that, broadly, my vision and, uh, would be that every child who is born in the city of Columbus. Has the ability to enroll. At, you know, whatever age their parents choose to in a high quality early learning experience. That would be provided in, um, a sort of safe, reliable setting. The teachers in the classroom would be compensated like teachers because they are teachers, adults who care for infants in these early childhood settings are teachers. I was recently speaking with the with the early childhood development specialists who talked about the fact that she believes actually the training bar is higher for teachers of infants then. Um teachers later in life because the, uh, because it is the pressure is so high in that brain matter development and the tactics are just as real as if you're learning to teach calculus or or even basic math. So every child has the opportunity to go up and to not an for their parents not to have to spend an exorbitant portion of their own money to make it happen. The you know it's it's achievable and affordable for every family and the teachers themselves make more than living wages. Actual wages that dignify the teaching profession. Those class sizes are at the size where children can still learn and get the individualized attention that is so important for four children and families that have this service go to work everyday feeling the confidence and uhm, and a relief that quality care and stimulation for their children provides.

Colin 27:25
Liz, if we can work on building that, I think we would both be very happy folks.

Liz 27:30
I think that's right, Colin

Colin 27:32
Oh, and Liz has just one more thing to say.

Liz 27:35
Research candidates, uh, we have an election coming up in November. That's pretty key when you do the work of direct lobbying to your government, you are going to be more successful if the person who holds that position generally agrees with you on the issues. So vote in every election, find out where your candidates stand on early childhood education. Recognize the power of your own voice in your communities. You are a leader in your neighborhood. You're a leader in your church. You are a leader in your workplace. Use your voice to organize others around you to make sure they're not leaving. Anything up to other people this November? It's very important to know which candidates stand with you on the issues you care about and to get every single vote out you can for those candidates.

Colin 28:31
Do your part in supporting high quality early learning this November by voting For more information on how the Register to vote and important deadlines in your community.

If you're interested in learning more about Liz, you can find her online using the handle @lizforus.

If you're loving the program, find us on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be sure that join us every other Friday as we gather around for Circle Time. Be sure the sun does what's on your mind by visiting, or tweeting us at @CircleTimePod. Your questions just might make it on the show. From South Side Early Learning I'm Colin McGinnis. This is Circle Time and we'll see you in 2 weeks.