Engaging Policymakers on Early Childhood:
Effective Strategies and Opportunities
Rep. Nora Slawik, Chair, Early Childhood Finance and
Policy Division, Minnesota
Stephanie Rubin, Senior Officer, Pew Center on the States
Effective Advocacy: It’s a Contact Sport!
• Hearing directly from business and other community leaders
sends a strong message.
• Policymakers gauge voter interest in an issue in part based on
whether and what they hear from their constituents and
• Personal stories and local perspectives are very persuasive.
• Early childhood issues need more legislative champions from
both political parties. Build a pipeline of supporters: local and
state policymaker champions may rise to more powerful state or
federal positions in the future.
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As in the Corporate World: Preparation is Critical
• Understand and leverage the legislative process, however slow
• Be familiar with the policymaker’s background and interests (e.g.
he was a pediatrician, she sat on the local United Way) and tie it
to your issue. The background of spouses may also be relevant.
• Be educated about who the key policymakers are on early
governor and relevant agency directors
chairs and vice chairs of relevant committees
caucus leaders, majority and minority leaders
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For Long Term Success: Build a Relationship
• To ensure proven programs are well implemented and scaled
up with high quality, also meet with the regulators: agency
directors and staff, commissioners, board members, etc.
• If your industry association or group has taken a support
position on early childhood and employs a lobbyist, ensure
that he/she lobbies on early childhood issues at the Capitol.
• Invite policymakers to join you on a tour of a high quality early
childhood program in their district: seeing is believing.
• Educate legislative and gubernatorial candidates.
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Meeting with Policymakers: Timing is Key
• Ensure the timing of your call or meeting is appropriate:
Meet with legislators in the Fall before legislative session
begins, when they prefer to meet in their district. These
pre-session meetings are a perfect opportunity to discuss
the issues at length and build a personal relationship; and
Meet during session before legislation is heard in
committee or on the House or Senate Floor.
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Winning at the State Capitol: Making Your Case
• Attend legislative meetings with an advocacy partner who
knows the intricate policy details (so you don’t have to).
• Good to meet with staff (with or without the policymaker); they
are critical conduits of information to policymakers and
manage legislative efforts.
• Bring materials to leave behind: policy briefs, copies of key
media coverage, letters of support, etc.
• Your “ask” should align with what the early childhood groups
and legislative champions are advocating. Veering off course
will cause confusion.
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Winning at the State Capitol: Bring the Issue Home
• Explain why early childhood issues are meaningful to you and
an urgent issue: discuss your involvement in local programs,
the academic research including relevant local data, how
early childhood builds human capital and promotes economic
• Indicate your willingness to stand with that legislator at a
public event in support of early childhood or reach out to other
legislators who may be on the fence.
• Follow up with a thank you letter, call and/or invitation to a
meeting of your colleagues. They appreciate opportunities to
publicly highlight their hard work.
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Common Pitfalls in Engaging Policymakers
• Clash of realities: how does your policy ask fit into the budget and
• Believing you need to answer the question commonly asked by
policymakers: “how should we pay for this?” when you don’t.
• Making a policy request that does not align with what the early
childhood community seeks or where legislators are headed. Be on
• Avoiding the Capitol due to the frustrating committee schedule.
• Weighing in too late in the legislative process.
• Not reaching out in a bipartisan manner.
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The Business Leader Voice
August 9, 2007 June 14, 2009
July 13, 2010 8