People for the Kids - Building an early ed system that works for everyone

What if parents, teachers, and preschool owners were united in crafting an early childhood education system that benefits all children?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Some of the parents we work with told us they couldn't access early learning programs in New Mexico because survivors of domestic were being told that they must sue their abuser for child support in order to qualify. This exposed kids to violence by antagonizing an abusive parent, or it left children without access to professional child care because many women refused to file for child support. We shared our parents' stories with policy-makers, but they insisted this wasn't happening to many women. It was probably a result of confusion or miscommunication. Our parents knew different, though. Because OLÉ's parents have a partnership with early educators and center owners that they call People for the Kids, they reached out to them for help. The teachers and center owners we work with knew about the problem, and they agreed to help by reaching out to parents to find other mothers who were comfortable with sharing their stories. Together, our coalition of parents, teachers, and owners built a group of dozens of women who were able to tell press and policy makers about how case workers were consistently misinforming parents, leading them to endanger their children or forgo child care that they were eligible for. As a result, policy makers worked with us to make changes to the child care enrollment system that would protect survivors of domestic violence and make sure their children had access to affordable early learning programs.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • New Mexico

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • New Mexico

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, and other cities.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Child care, Pre-K, and other early childhood education programs serve a fraction of children and provide poor professional opportunities to the providers who staff them. This is not only because they were designed without much input from the people they serve. It is also because parents, educators, and preschool owners are rarely unified in their efforts to change the system, competing with each other even though they share the same goals.

When you want to make an historic change—making high-quality early childhood education available and affordable to every young child—do you you think you can do it with just a small, dedicated band of advocates? Of course not. But many reformers work with a single interest group, such as parents, providers, or traditional advocates. This makes it more challenging to build a movement for transformational change. It creates the potential for different interests groups to feel that they are in competition and have conflicting goals and strategies. This signals to policy makers that any decision they may make will anger a group of stakeholders, paralyzing their will to advance reforms. This disastrous consequence is particularly regrettable because, in fact, most early education reformers share mutual goals, but their lack of communication, trust, and coordination can defeat them. OLÉ engages parents with young children, early educators who work in child care centers, and the women and men who have opened early learning centers in their communities in a long-term partnership that allows these groups to work around a common set of goals and strategies that have won changes in the extremely challenging environment of New Mexico.

When you get all of these groups talking, you realize they want the same thing: what's best for the kids. They want to remove barriers that prevent parents from enrolling their children easily and affordably; they want educators to gain access to the professional training and compensation they need to commit themselves to a lifelong career of high-quality early education; and they want early learning centers to prosper and provide high-quality education that is tailored to the community's needs and character. All three sets of stakeholders care about each of these things.

You don't often hear parents sticking up for their teachers, and early learning center owners speaking up for their teachers, though, so policy makers think they have competing interests. When you demonstrate unity among these groups, however, you can get a lot more accomplished. And when you create a structure that allows members from different interest groups to communicate regularly, they develop deeper bonds that allow them to support each other over the course of many years. Historic change takes a lot of time.

Deep bonds and relationships between groups also creates important changes in individual leaders: parents become informed experts on early learning pedagogy. Teachers gain a better understanding of the economics of their employer's early learning business. And center owners learn how both parents and teachers struggle to have a voice and gain respect from policy-makers and other experts who are used to looking to professional advocates for answers. This has allowed us to grow an army of volunteer activists with a breadth of experience and expertise that rivals professional advocates'.    

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

OLÉ parents drop off sick kids at preschool because caring for kids at home means losing a day's pay or their job. They decided to pass an earned sick days law in Albuquerque, so they could care for sick children and not infect others at school. Their People for the Kids coalition, which includes preschool teachers and owners, told them that the state's inadequate funding wouldn't cover the cost of earned sick days, so, together, they are creating a pool to cover the cost of sick days, with charitable funds to supplement contributions teachers and owners make from each paycheck. They also decided to change state regs, so they could create a shared substitute teacher pool, allowing providers to find substitutes whenever a teacher's sick.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

22 centers signed onto our partnership this year, meaning that 410 parents, 132 teachers, and 40 owners and directors forged an agreement of shared goals and strategies, including new systems they will build to provide the kind of early learning their children need. Earned sick days will provide healthier environments for children and less teacher turnover, which disrupts children's security and learning. With a shared substitute pool, centers won't be under ratio, so children will be safer and get the attention that helps them thrive. Coordinated communication and action will allow centers and parents to correct a child's unfairly interrupted state subsidy, which forces centers to eat the cost of providing care without state reimbursement and parents to jeopardize their children's safety and development if they remove them, lacking the means to pay for their child's early education.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $500k - $1m

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The William K. Kellogg Foundation and others have increased their support for our work over the years. As we continue to grow our charitable support, we are also developing a system for collecting membership dues from the parents and providers. Our partnership agreement includes a commitment from providers to collect dues for our organization from parents when they pay their monthly bill. Implementing this will secure our sustainability.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

In the growing landscape of organizations who recognize the opportunity for transformational reform in early childhood education, we know of no other effort that organizes parents, educators, and center owners as both individual constituencies and as part of a united, multi-year partnership with shared goals and a shared analysis of the structural barriers to reform. Our partnership provides an exportable model for building a movement of early education stakeholders that is winning changes and positioning its members to make high quality early learning universally accessible.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Over the past century, Americans have struggled to make education that was available to the few available to all. Expanding access to high-quality early learning is similar to the struggle to desegregate public schools because children with access to early education are more likely to succeed in life and are more likely to be White. Inequity in education has grown more apparent because children of color are starting their lives without the same development that other families enjoy. Our work in New Mexico is igniting a movement to change this by uniting those who stand to gain from reform.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Tony Perlstein from CPD


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Photo of Doug Gould

Great innovation by bringing all the stakeholders into the program! It would be interesting to hear more details on what type of legislative changes you want to see and how you would improve preschool curriculum. Best of luck.

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