In 2016, the Potts Family Foundation created a statewide collaborative called the Oklahoma Early Childhood Initiative, later dubbed OK25by25. Our stated goal is to move Oklahoma into the top 25 of all states by 2025 in key early childhood metrics.

Our key demographic is families with children, pre-birth to five. Through listening sessions with key community leaders, we identified four focus areas: evidence-based literacy/numeracy programs; evidence-based family support programs; access to preventive physical and brain health services; and access to affordable, high quality childcare. The research is very compelling that, if conditions improve in these four areas, the outcomes for our demographic will also improve.

Most funding for the four focus areas comes from state and/or federal dollars, with state dollars being appropriated by the legislature. State agencies receive appropriated state dollars to either provide direct services or contract to nonprofit or private organizations to deliver those services.

Either way, the legislature is a major financial lifeline for our demographic.

We saw it necessary, therefore, to ensure that our legislators were aware of the critically important pre-birth to five time period for brain and social-emotional development. We decided to create an Early Childhood Legislative Caucus.

You might be wondering: Can a private foundation create a state legislative caucus? And is a small foundation with $7.2 million in assets and 4 staff capable of doing this?

Although the IRS has made it clear that private foundations cannot engage in or directly support lobbying, we can educate and advocate on behalf of a broad range of issues.

We leveraged the reputation of the foundation’s co-founder, Pat Potts, a leader and advocate for children in Oklahoma. Pat and I scheduled in-person meetings with as many legislators as we could during the 4-month legislative session. We met in their offices to introduce the statewide initiative and its specific focus areas, most which received direct state dollars.

Our appeal to them was, if cuts were necessary, that they consider leaving all evidence-based programs alone vs. those programs for which no data and outcomes are collected. Conversely, if additional dollars were available, the evidence-based programs should receive a top priority. This was our “ask.” In all likelihood, they would do what their leadership and caucus decided, but our “ask” and the rationale behind it were essential to growing the Legislative Caucus.

Read the full article about the Legislative Caucus by Craig Knutson at Exponent Philanthropy.