Offered to match state investments in leadership development and community planning
The period leading up to the 2007 legislative session was an exciting time for early care and education advocates, and for the Memorial Fund. Over the previous years, awareness and political support for early childhood issues had been growing. State leaders, legislators, agencies and government officials were focused on the issue.
Governor M. Jodi Rell had sought legislation in 2006 to establish the Connecticut Early Childhood Education Cabinet (the Cabinet), charged with evaluating the school readiness program, as well as an Early Childhood Research and Policy Council (the Council) to support this work. The Cabinet was informed and supported by a network of state agencies that had begun working more closely together.
To take advantage of this momentum, the Memorial Fund Trustees voted at the end of 2006 to extend and intensify the Discovery initiative. What had started as a 6-year, $16 million initiative had grown into an 8-year, $28 million initiative.
There were still areas of serious concern. Funding for the Parent Trust Fund , which provided grants for parent leadership training, would have been eliminated under the proposed state budget. While advocates had started working together, they were still advancing different and sometimes competing agendas. And, Discovery communities were, overall, still more focused on affecting change on the local level than driving an agenda at the state level.
By the start of the 2007 session, the Memorial Fund had developed relationships with state agencies and leaders, other local and national funders. Executive Director David Nee, in his role as the co-chair of the Research and Policy Council, had been working with a committee examining how public and private resources could be collectively allocated to community capacity building. This exploration led to an offer to the State of Connecticut – the Memorial Fund would allocate $900,000 in 2007-2009 for local planning and $350,000 in the first two years for parent leadership training if the state would match this investment, dollar for dollar, in new funds.
The State accepted the offer. The additional funds allowed the Parent Trust Fund to support thirty-seven parent leadership programs in communities, compared to twenty-one prior to the increase in funds. A whole new group of parents, grandparents, and other adult caregivers, more than 1,000 per year since 2007, received civic leadership training that would prepare them to work with school, community, and state leaders to improve health, safety, and learning for all children.
The state matching funds for community planning were used for grants, technical assistance and to document this new partnership. The early childhood work already underway in communities provided the foundation for the roll-out of this work. Through the partnership, 23 communities developed comprehensive community plans for early childhood by 2009.
Overall, the matching funds strategy increased the visibility and credibility of the work and created opportunities to build relationships. The plans served as a platform for communities and statewide organizations to rally around. Relationships among the State and private funding partners were built and strengthened. Advocates were able to connect their work to this process and the plans developed in the 23 communities. In addition, the plans received local press interest and attention from elected officials. The resources going into Discovery communities increased significantly as did awareness of the local collaboratives.
Starting in 2010, the Memorial Fund made funding available to develop comprehensive plans in 20 more communities and to implement existing plans in 15 communities. The Children’s Fund of Connecticut provided another $100,000 per year to continue to support health strategies across both groups of communities. The public-private partnership has shifted its focus to supporting local decision-making structure and process in implementing, enhancing or developing comprehensive community plans.
Connecticut, like many other states, experienced an economic downturn in 2008-2009. Communities that had a comprehensive plan in place, however, were better positioned to take advantage of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds and secure other sources of funding. A few communities presented their plan to local funders that were so impressed with the work and process that they agreed to only fund projects going forward that fit with strategies identified in the plan. It was especially fortuitous in these hard times that most communities had built their plans through a Results Based Accountability (RBA) rubric. RBA moves from planning to action swiftly and encourages participants to focus first on what can be done at no or low cost.
Additionally, in 2010, advocacy by communities and statewide organizations pressured the state to accept, once again, the Memorial Fund’s offer of co-funding. The state is providing $500,000 for the Parent Trust Fund, $150,000 for a Grade Level Reading Campaign and $422,500 for Community plan development and implementation. This adds up to over $1 million in matching funds.
As with any strategy, there were tradeoffs and compromises, both intended and unintended. Managing a partnership also put great demands on staff and internal resources. Decisions had to go through the internal process of several entities instead of one. The overall collaborative process created challenges. As Carmen Siberon, Program Officer expressed, "When we started down this collaborative role, we had been asking the communities to collaborate for 6 or 7 years and this would teach us exactly how hard collaboration is." However the benefits of collaborative work outweigh the challenges. In addition to increased resources for communities, the funding partners developed deeper relationships and learned from each other in the process.