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Advocacy in Action: Tips for Writing an Effective Letter to the Editor

DSC 5032 1We know that getting all kids off to a successful start in life requires a greater investment from the state; in a year when our lawmakers opted not to restore cuts made in 2017 to early childhood systems and programs, they need to hear from constituents that these increased investments are a priority. Young children in Oregon are relying on us to speak up about the importance of high-quality childcare and early education. Feel free to use these tips to more effectively convey your position, whether you are writing a letter to the editor, an email to your state representatives (which you can do easily using our online advocacy tool), or a Facebook post to share with your network.

A concise position statement. Choose one position to support in order to keep your letter focused; make your point clear in the opening sentence or following a personal anecdote. Sample position statements:

  • By failing to restore cuts made in 2017 to early childhood, Oregon missed an opportunity to invest in services that prevent crises and ensure young children are safe, healthy, and prepared to learn. 
  • Oregon cannot close the opportunity gap and prepare children for school if the state's strategy is to only invest in young children in times of crisis. 
  • Culturally specific organizations with a track record of serving children of color in Oregon need access to additional funds to expand their programming.

Your personal connection to the issue. If you benefit from a state-funded preschool program, have a child in a licensed childcare setting that requires state oversight, or are a Head Start teacher, make sure you say so! Personal stories help to strengthen your point and will make your letter stand out.

If you are less directly connected to childcare or early education, you may still have a personal connection to include. Consider the following questions:

  • Did you attend a state-funded preschool program?
  • Did you or your children attend a private preschool program, the benefits of which you believe should be more widely available?
  • Do you or anyone you know make use of family childcare providers who would benefit from increased training?
  • Would you like access to early education programming or family supports that better represent your culture and/or home language?

Evidence to support your position. You don’t need a PhD in early childhood development to write a letter of support. Your evidence can build off of your personal experiences. For example, if you are a parent with a child who has benefitted from Head Start, the changes you observed in your child as a result of the program count as evidence. More specific evidence is more persuasive: explaining that you child started kindergarten knowing the alphabet is better than just saying the program was beneficial.

While research isn’t necessary, it can help augment personal evidence. We’ve compiled a list of key evidence in support of these priorities that you may find useful.

  • According to the Education Week Research Center, Oregon ranks 46th for providing learning opportunities to 3–5-year-olds.
  • According to the Economic Policy Institute, only 33 percent of Oregon families can afford preschool for a 4-year-old.
  • According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, Oregon ranks 31st in the percentage of 4-year-olds who attend state-funded preschool.
  • Three children have died in from 2016–2017 in licensed childcare facilities in Portland.
  • Oregon childcare licensing specialist oversee 150 facilities each, three times the recommended number.
  • Multiple studies conducted at Harvard, Georgetown, and elsewhere have found that attendance in a high-quality early education program has lasting educational benefits.
  • High-quality early education has a positive impact on children’s behavior, emotional maturity, and social interactions.
  • According to Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman, high-quality birth–five early education programs provide a 13 percent return on investment.
  • According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, Head Start teachers in Oregon with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $30,000 less than public elementary school teachers, a discrepancy that is larger than the national average.

A clear statement of what you want your reader to do in response. The “ask” in your letter will depend on who you are writing to. If you’re contacting a legislator, the list below helps to summarize the asks based on the priorities. Include this ask at the end of your letter.

  • In 2019, please remember that Oregon must prioritize funding a comprehensive early childhood system if our children and our state are to be successful. 
  • Oregon cannot afford to fall any further behind in education. Please support early childhood programs and services in 2019 so that our state can get ahead. 
  • Please vote in favor of HB 4066 to establish the creation of an Early Childhood Equity Fund.

If you are posting about your priority on social media, you can ask people in your network to check out this post and then make use of our advocacy tool to send their own letter of support.

The examples in the links below highlight the combination of the components listed above. If you’d like to share your own letter of support, feel free to comment on this post, and remember to contact your state legislators.

Thank you for speaking up on behalf of Oregon’s kids!

Note: This post was updated on March 2, 2018 to reflect budget decisions made by the state legislature. 

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