The period of recovery from COVID-19 will be difficult and probably somewhat chaotic. The potential for new revenue will be reduced as the economy flounders. But it will also be a time to reassess fiscal priorities as well as the processes through which we make public policy decisions regarding local budgets. Advocates for children and youth must come together in new ways to insist the needs of our next generation be prioritized, and insist that those most impacted by public policy decisions have a strong and effective voice.
We must take advantage of the fact that a new kind of dialogue has begun between those caring for children and local government – out of necessity. On an emergency basis, cities and counties have had to figure out everything from how to provide more flexible childcare, to how to reduce juveniles who are incarcerated, to how to find housing for homeless families. They have had to develop a new kind of flexibility, creativity and responsiveness. City and county departments have had to step up and provide new kinds of services. We must build on that for the next phase of our work.
Over the past five years, we have had the opportunity to face many challenges to getting more local public dollars for kids.
- Competition for resources is always fierce, even when the recipients are young people. No matter how well-crafted or supported a proposal is, there will be opponents – often unexpected and often noisy opponents.
- Community-based non-profits must be core to this work, but they are inexperienced, often reluctant, unaware of their legal options and sometimes fearful of retribution by public funders.
- Advocates for children and youth are not used to building the broad coalitions that are required when fighting for money.
- Parents and young people are too seldom at the forefront of efforts to reallocate resources.
- Advocates for children and youth know their cause is just and presume their good case will be sufficient. They are not used to the hardball tactics that fighting for money sometimes necessitates.
For ballot measures specifically:
- California’s election and tax laws create significant barriers to raising revenue for a specific cause. For instance, special taxes require a 2/3 vote and there are numerous constraints as to when and how revenues can be voted on. As a result, many of the measures that have been tried since 2016 have not passed. See chart. (To better understand legal limitations: Read white paper on revenue options by Orrick Finance Group.)
- Advocates for children’s services are not used to raising political money. Ballot campaigns for justice require resources. This means developing new skills and new alliances.
- There is no linear path to increasing funding for children and youth, and every community is different. But basic activities for increasing local funding for children and youth are: Building the case; Building a base; Crafting a strong policy; and Negotiating with policy-makers. This is true of both campaigns for local budget increases, as well as ballot measure campaigns.
- There are important intermediary steps that can be taken before delving into planning a ballot measure – particularly annual advocacy in the local budget process. (link to On Becoming a Champion for Children – in resources under Tools).
- The primary activity involved in increasing local funding or passing a measure for funding children and youth services is outreach, communication and organizing. While research, planning and policy development are essential, they should not over shadow the importance of what it takes to build a base of support.
- Engaging youth and parents as partners in increasing local funding or passing a measure can be powerful – and can change the process.
- An effective approach to decision-makers requires both persuasion and pressure. Advocates for children and youth expect only persuasion to work. There are many voices in the policy making arena. Elected officials respond to pressure, even though it is uncomfortable for many who are inexperienced advocates. (link to paper on Pressure vs Persuasion under featured info, midway)
- This is a marathon, not a sprint. Advocating for budget increases and preparing for a ballot measure requires homework – research, negotiating, base-building and more. But it also requires initiative and courage. If you wait too long to get started, you will never do it.
- Elections are powerful – they not only create a mechanism to institutionalize funding and policy, but they are also a platform like none other for communication to the public and to decision-makers.
- While San Francisco’s Children’s Fund has been a powerful model and inspiration for this movement, advocates for increased local funding must explore many other strategies for utilizing the benefits of the ballot besides a single-issue fund, including joining other interest groups in revenue measures and pre-ballot negotiations to make children a priority in planning for general taxes.
- Most leaders of efforts to get local Children’s Budgets adopted or place measures on the ballot say that it is harder than they anticipated, but also more exhilarating and they learn much more than they ever could have expected.
A GREAT OVERVIEW – Strategies, Challenges, Lessons Learned – a power point providing an overview of challenges, strategies and lessons learned from budget wars and ballot measure campaigns, 2019
Creating a local dedicated funding stream for kids – our “how-to” manual, second edition
Next Steps and New Opportunities
- Help our continually growing network demand a seat at every possible relevant local “table” where financial and related decisions are being made – so that the needs of children and youth remain in at the front of every consideration.
- Develop the “post-virus” case for investing in children and youth focusing on the lessons learned and realities revealed.
- Identify and promote local budget strategies that require transparency, priority-setting, and public engagement. Provide support and technical assistance to children and youth advocates in participating in local budget processes.
- Provide technical assistance, including mechanisms for information-sharing and group support, to the growing number of coalitions in cities and counties in California which aspire to create dedicated funding streams for children, youth and families, particularly those who are most disadvantaged.
- Focus on the benefits of moving resources from punishment to prevention and opportunity.
- Assist city and county-wide coalitions in becoming more multi-cultural and multi-racial, and more reflective of a broader segment of the community.
- Develop and implement strategies that encourage active participation of non-profit service providers in creating local funding streams, as well as the engagement of the participants in their programs.
- Work with state policymakers to find solutions to the legal barriers to passing funding measures at the local level.
Are you ready to explore collective action on your city or county budget or a dedicated funding stream for your community?
Download: Community Discussion Guide
- Is there an organization with community credibility that will convene the planning meetings?
- Do you have staff support for the planning and organizing?
- Is there a coalition or network that can work together toward the goal of increased or dedicated funding?
- Does your community have data about the needs of children, youth and families, and the gaps in services?
- Is there a respected elected official who will be your champion?
- Does your community have a civic culture that supports kids?
- Are there potential donors to your budget advocacy or to a campaign?
- Do you have the passion and willingness to take risks – and run the marathon?