A Moment with Dr. Moore – Seeing the Stars: New Hope for a New Year

January 26, 2023

There’s a great song that sums up how I’m feeling at the start of 2023. “It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life for me. And I’m feeling good,” as the great Nina Simone sang in 1965. I also sang it at the Council’s last annual conference because it felt good to be with so many of our early childhood teachers. And I can’t wait to see what the new year has in store for early childhood professionals nationwide. Sure, we’ve been through some tough times, but we can overcome them, especially if we take a tip from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we just marked. “We must accept finite disappointment,” he advised, “but never lose infinite hope.”

And I have high hopes for the future of our field since we’re now getting more support from the states. In Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards is determined to advance early learning this year. “I believe if we continue to invest in early childhood education robustly,” he recently said, “that within a generation we will transform our state and achieve those education outcomes that have eluded us for far too long.” And Governor Kathy Hochul in New York is also working to reach this goal by doubling the state’s funding for free pre-K, leading to a total of $1.2 billion a year.

Big money like this is a wise investment in the promise of every child, according to Maryland’s Blueprint for the Future, a plan to increase educational funding by $3.8 billion each year for the next decade. And new Maryland Governor Wes Moore campaigned on a pledge to provide free pre-K for all the state’s three- and four-year-old children in need. “Every student in Maryland will know that there are many paths to success and fulfillment,” Moore said this month in his inaugural address. “Those paths begin with high-quality, highly inclusive schools from pre-K to 12th grade.” And we need to pave the way for them right now, Moore also urged. “Our children cannot wait 10-plus years for the plan’s full implementation.”

Neither can our children’s parents as they wait for the quality child care they need to go to work. And lawmakers are getting the message from the people they serve. In Connecticut, Rep. Robin Comey (D-Branford) says that “there’s rarely a day that I don’t have conversations with constituents or business owners about the importance of having really strong, affordable and quality care for our kids.” And the exchange that especially stood out in her mind took place on New Year’s Eve with one of her neighbors. He was a single dad, Comey recalled, who was having trouble finding child care for his daughter so he could seek a full-time job. And Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II could empathize with this dad’s concerns. “As a father, I know the importance of having skilled child care professionals to care for our kids,” Gilchrist explained.

They’re words that remind us that all politics is personal. And they certainly are in Vermont. As the state’s lawmakers grapple with debates about child care, a handful of them are living with the day-to-day roadblocks of raising or bearing infants themselves. A number of young working moms—or moms-to-be—joined the state legislature this year after Vermonters elected more women than ever before during the November 2022 elections.

These political newcomers include Ashley Bartley (R-Fairfax), who had an 11-month-old daughter when she won a seat in the Vermont House. “My husband and I looked at each other, looked down at the baby, and then started laughing,” Bartley recalled. It was nervous laughter as they worried about whether they could get a child care slot. And Jubilee McGill (D-Addison) had similar concerns. She began calling child care centers while pregnant with her now seven-month-old girl but ran into one long waitlist after another. For a while she managed to juggle home and job with a flexible schedule from her employer. But the pressure rose as she faced an impending deadline: her inauguration into the Vermont House early this year. She had to report to the state capital of Montpelier every Tuesday through Friday but still didn’t know what to do with her daughter. “I’ve been emailing everyone I know who’s Montpelier-adjacent, trying to figure something out,” McGill was still fretting by late December last year.

Concerns like this aren’t new to women who hold public office in our nation. Policymakers like Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Penn.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have long been vocal about their troubles finding child care and how it’s been crucial to maintaining their careers. What’s changed is that men are now getting into the act. Early this month, Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) brought his four-month-old baby to work on Capitol Hill. In between votes, he changed diapers and bottle-fed his child. And Gomez wasn’t the only one on daddy duty in the U.S. House. Other parents, including Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), also brought their children to work to highlight a problem that plagues America’s parents.

Child care is costly and far out of reach for most families in this country. Our lawmakers are feeling their pain and some are working moms and dads with a personal stake in the search for answers and solutions. There’s a growing recognition in government bodies of the crucial role our industry plays. So, our early childhood teachers are getting some of the kudos they deserve for their sense of caring and commitment. Yes, they’ve had some grim years, but “only in the darkness can you see the stars,” as Dr. King explained. They come out to light the sky while we’re waiting for the dawn. And there are already signs that it’s a new day for the early learning field. That gives me an infinite sense of hope and should make us all feel good.

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