In 2000, an omnibus child care bill entitled "Kids Are Priority One" was introduced and swiftly died in the legislative session due to lack of public support and political will. In July 2000, Windham Child Care Association and Unified Voice for Children of Chittenden County organized an all-day, statewide Early Childhood Activists' Retreat at the home of the late Senator Jean Ankeney. In August, Kim Keiser, Director of the Child Care Services Division at the time and the bill's primary author, convened the directors of Vermont's child care resource and referral agencies and a small group of advocates from Vermont child and family organizations to discuss next steps. The early childhood community- such as it was-had learned a powerful lesson that legislative session: In order to advance system-wide changes that better enable Vermont to meet the needs of its youngest citizens, the state's early childhood community first needed to organize itself around a set of shared priorities. Indeed, legislators had been telling early childhood advocates for some time to come back to the legislature with a "road map" that clearly spelled out specific policy proposals for which there was broad support within the early childhood community.
A confluence of events-the failure of the Kids Are Priority One bill to gain any traction in the legislature that session, the summer retreat and the meeting convened by Kim Keiser-set the stage for the formation of the Kids Are Priority One Coalition in September 2000. Although activists at the retreat had identified many next steps, it was at the August meeting that the Kids Are Priority One Coalition was born. Individuals representing four not-for-profits organizations-Windham Child Care Association, the Vermont Family Network (called Parent to Parent of Vermont at the time), Voices for Vermont's Children, and the Vermont Child Care Providers Association-volunteered to explore ways to ensure that early childhood advocates (early childhood service providers, early childhood educators, parents, advocacy organizations and others) were all "singing from the same sheet of music."
Building on the discussions that had taken place at the summer retreat, the four organizations made a commitment in September to form a Coalition and provide initial staff:
- An Organizing Director, who oversaw coalition-building activities and grassroots organizing strategy, hosted by Windham Child Care Association;
- A lobbyist in Montpelier, hosted by Voices for Vermont's Children, who works with the Organizing Director to ensure that legislators are hearing from early childhood leaders on a regular basis;
- A policy analyst, hosted by Parent to Parent of Vermont (which is now the Vermont Family Network), who oversees development of the Coalition's annual policy agenda and provides policy analysis on children's health issues; and
- A coordinator of the Coalition's e-network, hosted by the Vermont Child Care Providers Association), who ensures that the e-network keeps early childhood advocates up-to-date on policy developments and opportunities to speak out on issues that concerned them.
An Early Childhood Strategic Planning Retreat, convened by the Vermont Community Foundation in November 2000, helped to flesh out the coalition's initial policy agenda. (See Policy Agenda for information on how the coalition's annual policy agenda is now set).
Throughout the past decade, Coalition leadership has remained very stable. Today, six not-for-profit organizations (three of which were the original founders) lead the Coalition and provide part-time staff:
- Voices for Vermont's Children, which still houses the Coalition's lobbyist;
- Windham Child Care Association, which still hosts the Coalition's Organizing Director;
- Vermont Family Network (formerly Parent to Parent of Vermont), which still hosts the Coalition's policy analyst;
- Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children, which houses one of the Coalition's Community Organizers and the Coalition's Finance Director;
- Mama Says, which hosts one of the Coalition's Community Organizers; and
- Vermont Child Care Industry and Careers Council, which houses the Coalition's E-Network Coordinator.
While the Vermont Child Care Providers Association (one of the original founders) does not host a Coalition staff member at this time, it remains an important and active partner in the Coalition.
The Coalition is not a separate 501(c)3 organization. Each time the Coalition's lead organizations re-visit this decision, they affirm the effectiveness of the current structure. By creating its own not-for-profit organization, the Coalition would end up competing for funding with the very organizations upon which it depends so heavily-namely, the six lead organizations.