Reflections on United Way’s Education Advocacy Efforts

Despite threats to critical education programs and heightened political battles in Congress, 2011 was a great year for United Way Worldwide’s education policy work. United Way worked tirelessly to raise awareness about education policy issues and advocate for key pieces of legislation that provide young people with the supports necessary for success in college, work and life. Here are a few of the highlights:

National Collaboration for Youth-United Way Worldwide Congressional Briefing:
In February 2011, United Way Worldwide partnered with the National Collaboration for Youth to host a congressional briefing on children and youth issues in the 112th Congress. The briefing highlighted the National Collaboration for Youth’s 2011 policy agenda: Building a Brighter Future. The speakers, which included David Johns, Senior Education Advisor for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Committee, focused on the major developmental aspects of a child’s life, from birth to 24 years, and how policies and legislation can improve the conditions of children and youth.

United Way Education Town Hall:
In March 2011, United Way joined with moderator Soledad O’Brien, to host the United Way Education Town Hall in our nation’s capital. The top education leaders and advocates from across the nonprofit, government and corporate sectors attended for a candid conversation about our shared education challenges—and what we can do together to face them. Participants included U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes, and former CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service Patrick Corvington.

Building a Grad Nation Summit:
In March 2011, United Way played an active role in America’s Promise Alliance’s Building a Grad Nation Summit in Washington, DC. Commemorating the launch of the Alliance’s 10-year Grad Nation campaign, the Summit brought together community organizations, educators, local and state leaders, national nonprofit organizations, businesses, youth and others to not only share progress on the goal to end the high school dropout crisis but also catalyze additional action.

Save AmeriCorps Call to Action:
Amidst threats that AmeriCorps would be eliminated in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 budget, United Way worked to mobilize individuals online and offline to preserve this critical program that employs thousands and leverages millions of volunteers. Fortunately, as a result of many of these efforts, AmeriCorps was preserved in the FY2011 appropriations bill.

United Way Hill Day 2011:
In September 2011, the United Way Worldwide Public Policy team hosted a policy training and Hill Day for United Way staffers and supporters from across the nation. The training focused on how United Way can better respond to state and local budget cuts and meet the needs of the communities we serve. Participants met with their representatives on Capitol Hill and advocated for United Way’s Education, Income and Health policy priorities. In particular, participants urged Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and include programs and policies that support school readiness, middle school success and on-time high school graduation.

Business Community Outreach for Early Learning Funding: In response to potential funding cuts to early learning programs in the FY2012 budget, United Way partnered with the First Five Years Fund (FFYF) to lift up the influential voices of business champions. United Way worked with FFYF and several national organizations to invite major business leaders to sign onto a letter to members of Congress in support of investments in early childhood education. The letter was published in the print edition of Politico in October 2011. With the help of the business community’s support, early learning programs, including Head Start, the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), and the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, received significant gains in funding in the FY2012 appropriations bill.

As a new year begins, we look back at last year’s successes and lessons learned with pride and gratitude and look forward to advancing our goal to cut the nation’s dropout rate in half with many of our key national, state and local partners in 2012.