By Vance Aloupis, CEO of The Children’s Movement
For the last four years, The Children’s Movement has advocated relentlessly for Florida to eliminate a five-year waiting period that has been a barrier in the way of thousands of children from accessing health insurance through the Florida KidCare programs.
Today, that boulder has been rolled aside.
With strong leadership this year from House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Rep. Jose Diaz and Sen. Rene Garcia, the State adopted the no-wait-list measure, starting July 1. This change affects more than 17,000 eligible children, who like their peers need access to quality medical care to stay healthy and thrive in school.
The change today heralds progress in supporting Florida’s children and our State’s future. But for this to be a game-changer depends on making sure eligible families find out how and where to apply. The Children’s Movement and many others have begun a massive outreach campaign, but the public’s help – especially those with ties to the immigrant community – is needed and encouraged.
This KidCare legislation is an important step in making Florida the best state in the nation for young children. The next step: Finding real ways to enroll the hundreds of thousands of children who are still uninsured.
The Children’s Movement of Florida launched in 2010, but its origins date back to 1996 when then-Gov. Lawton Chiles asked 55 citizens from around the state to make recommendations for the future of public education in the next millennium.
Among them was David Lawrence Jr., then publisher of The Miami Herald. He chaired a task force on “school readiness” that led to an important 1999 law consolidating early childhood education and child-care programs into one integrated program.
Convinced that quality early learning was fundamental to the future of the state and the country, Lawrence retired from a distinguished, three-decade-long journalism career in 1999 to devote his full-time energies to early childhood initiatives.
Joining him was a public-spirited Miami couple, Dr. Jane and Gerald Katcher, and together they formed The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, underwritten by the Katchers’ financial generosity.
In 2001, the foundation launched a successful public awareness campaign, Teach More/Love More, which became the model for today’s statewide Help Me Grow parent resource advice center.
In addition, the foundation’s efforts led to other major successes, including two in the fall of 2002:
- In September, Miami-area voters agreed by a 2-1 margin to increase their property taxes to create a dedicated funding source, The Children’s Trust of Miami-Dade, charged with giving children the essential foundations to achieve their full potential.
- In November, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment – championed by Lawrence and others – that established a free, voluntary prekindergarten program open to any 4-year-old in the state.
Then in 2008, the Children’s Trust was required by law to be reauthorized by Miami-Dade voters, who this time approved it by an overwhelming 86 percent.
Those successes prompted Lawrence and other early-childhood advocates to begin planning for a much larger statewide movement to make Florida the best state in the nation for young children. Within two years, The Children’s Movement of Florida began, with Lawrence serving as chairman of the board.
Since the start, two other couples, Mike and Constance Fernandez of Miami and Barney and Carol Jenkins Barnett of Lakeland, have been key benefactors of The Movement along with the Katchers.