In this era of Tea Party discontent, a group of Floridians who have had it up to their eyeballs with the way Florida treats its children is kicking off its own series of Milk Parties to register their determination to elevate children on the state’s list of investment priorities. Officially launched earlier this week, the new group is called The Children’s Movement of Florida. Its leaders are children’s advocate David Lawrence, Jr., and Roberto Martinez, Florida board of education member and former U.S. attorney for South Florida. For many in early education, Lawrence needs little introduction. He’s president of The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, founding chair of The Children’s Trust, University Scholar for early childhood development and readiness at the University of Florida, and retired publisher of The Miami Herald. We decided to ask him some questions about the new group, its mission, and how they intend to accomplish it.
Q: Could you fill us in a little about the new organization?
A: We are a citizen-led, non-partisan movement to educate political, business and civic leaders — and all parents of the state — about the urgent need to significantly improve the way we care for our children. Our goal is to encourage the people and leaders of Florida to make the well-being and education of our children the state’s highest priority.
Q: What are some examples of problems your organization will address?
A: Here are just a few:
- Hundreds of thousands of our children are not covered by health insurance.
- The state’s prekindergarten program does not meet most national standards.
- Early screening and treatment programs for children with special needs are poorly coordinated, difficult to access and of inconsistent quality.
- A quarter of our public high school students do not graduate.
- Florida’s businesses and community organizations are not committed to strengthening child mentoring and parent skill-building programs.
Q: What sort of programs do you have in mind?
A: We have identified five areas for a first focus of special interest and action:
- Access to quality health care,
- Screening and treatment for special needs,
- Quality pre-kindergarten opportunities,
- High-quality mentoring programs, and
- Support and information for parents.
Q: Could you fill us in on the Milk Party events?
A: After considerable research and planning, a major effort now is underway to muster and demonstrate statewide support for The Children’s Movement of Florida and its objectives. Fifteen “Milk Party” events and rallies will be held throughout Florida – from Pensacola all the way to Key West – between Sept. 6 and Sept. 30. Details are posted on our website. www.childrensmovementflorida.org
We expect these events to attract thousands of people, along with extensive media coverage. An outpouring of support will help convince political, business and civic leaders to significantly elevate the priorities assigned to children’s issues.
Q: How can you know this will work?
The group conducted a pilot project in Palm Beach County during April and May 2010. Surveys conducted before and after that pilot project found that a series of community events – backed by an extensive informational media campaign – dramatically increased awareness of the inadequacy of children’s programs in Florida and substantially enhanced support for a statewide children’s movement. You can read the final report here.
Q: How are you paying for it?
A: The pilot project in Palm Beach County was funded by The W.K. Kellogg Foundation which supports children, families and communities. The statewide Children’s Movement of Florida is being funded by contributions raised by its leaders. No taxpayer funds are involved.
Q: Are you advocating tax increases to pay for these improvements in children’s programs and these larger investments in the development of Florida’s children?
A: We are not advocating statewide tax increases. Rather, we insist that children’s issues receive the highest priority, and a much larger share of resources.
Q: Are you endorsing political candidates?
A: No. This is an educational and informational campaign. We hope that Floridians will hear our message, enlist in this movement and then work in whatever way they see fit to ensure that the necessary public and private resources are dedicated to ensuring the full and proper nurturing of our most important resource – our children.