In 1998, California voters passed Proposition 10, the “Children and Families Act of 1998.” The passage reflected a mandate by California voters to enhance the early development experience of young children so that they were ready to be successful for school and life. The Act recognized that the early years are the foundation of lifelong success, and that to have a thriving and healthy California we must start investing in the early years.
Local control of First 5 investments has always been a hallmark of the statute, as has been the prohibition against supplantation. In a nutshell, First 5 dollars cannot be used to supplant existing funding for programs and services. This has been important to preserving F5 funding through several challenges, both at the ballot box and by the Governor’s office during budget deficit years.
The First 5 Association was formed to provide voice and networking to the diverse 58 counties. When challenges with First 5 California, the Governor and others have arisen, the First 5 Association has been invaluable in helping the group clarify the issues and find a unified voice. The Association has also served as a clearinghouse for best practices and critical discussions among First 5 ED’s and Commissioners. One of the key strengths of the Association is the unanimous commitment of the counties to F5’s mission. There are obvious differences between large and small, rural and urban, more “conservative” and more “liberal” counties, but within the Association, the counties function with an eye towards their mission and work to find common ground.
The Association works closely with First 5 CA. In fact, there is more alignment between the goals of the two organizations than ever before, due to the hard work of the two EDs, Moira Kenney of the F5 Association, and Camille Maben of F5CA. This year’s Advocacy Day was co-sponsored by First 5 California for the first time, and during last week’s full-day “First 5 Networking Meeting” in Alameda, Camille participated actively in discussions on First 5 messaging and leveraging.
In addition to the ED, Moira Kenney, the Association employs three others: a policy director, health policy and program manager, and an operations coordinator. Their tiny office coordinates 4 quarterly Association meetings, various webinars and training opportunities, the statewide Help Me Grow technical assistance, and action on a policy agenda, which is established each year. The Association is a non-profit organization, which has capacity to oversee grants to counties that may require 501(c)3 status. During the next year, we may see the Association sponsor legislation for the first time, in an effort to respond to First 5 needs and goals, build stronger relationships with legislators and begin to develop a stronger voice in the Capitol. During the last year, as I have noticed policy needs, I’ve been happy to see the Association rise to meet these. Their policy director has a significantly closer view on policy changes than I do, so her insight has been invaluable. Just as our own Commission’s work is evolving to better address systems change, the Association of the 58 county commissions has also pivoted to be a stronger voice and presence in policymaking.
The First 5 Association is funded solely by dues paid by each First 5 county, using a formula based on county size. First 5 Humboldt is one of 26 counties that contributes an additional amount to the “Policy and Communications Fund” which enables the Association to expand its policy work. Our contribution to this fund last year (its first year) was a modest $375. This policy focus is critical as First 5s experience declining revenue and look for policy solutions to maintaining the programs that First 5s provide.
That’s the Association in a nutshell. I attend their quarterly meetings, serve on their Advocacy Committee, participate in the monthly Northwest Region conference calls, and participate in any of their webinars that I can. Nancy Howatt, our fiscal consultant, sits on their fiscal committee, which is extremely valuable, as it gives us insight into revenue projections and the many changes F5 funding has experienced recently, as well as providing a forum for fiscal policy questions.
If you would like to subscribe to the Association’s weekly newsletter, let me know. It’s a great way to keep on top of the First 5 work at all levels.