Thursday, May 25, 2017

Advocating for Sustained Funding of Youth Programs: An Interview with Margaret Brodkin, Part 2

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
With the call to defund the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers Initiative, never has it been more important that we act to ensure the sustainability of funding for youth programs. Below, we provide Part 2 of an interview with Margaret Brodkin (view Part 1 here). Ms. Brodkin led a campaign in the early 1990’s to develop a permanent “children’s fund” in San Francisco – a stable and sustainable fund of city tax dollars dedicated to programs that support children and youth. 

Ms. Brodkin has gone on to assist cities and counties across the country to develop their own “children’s fund”. 

Q: Can you give details on what else this “children’s fund” proposal included? 

A: The latest version of the Children’s Fund passed in 2014. There were lots of other provisions in this version, as well as the other versions – although we kept adding stuff each time. Major provisions included:
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1) Creation of a Children’s Baseline Budget. This required the city to calculate what is being spent on kids every year, and not reducing that amount in each year’s budget. The Baseline could also go up (or down) with the city’s revenues. This turned out to be as valuable as having new revenue. 

2) Creation of an Advisory and Oversight Committee appointed by the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor with the power to oversee the Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families (DCYF) budget, have input into the hiring of the DCYF director, and approve the community needs assessment and allocation plan.

3) Creation of a planning process that required a Community Needs Assessment, defining multiple levels of input from the community and all relevant city departments, and an Allocation Plan that determines what services will be funded and by how much.

4) In 2014, the age range of those served was expanded to age 24, with a special funding stream for transitional age youth.

5) Requires program evaluations for what is funded.

6) Has a specific list of services that can be funded. Services include: youth development, family support, early care and education, career readiness, violence prevention. It also includes services that cannot be funded using Children’s Fund monies. This includes funding for law enforcement. 

7) Creation of a Providers Advisory Committee to DCYF.

8) 25 year sunset.

Q: In what ways was this revolutionary for American cities?
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A: We were the first city in the country to do anything like this. Other people looked at it and it got replicated in a number of other places, like Oakland, Portland, and Seattle. I have a project where I’m helping cities and counties around the state do the same thing. 

I work with people now trying to do the same thing and one of the biggest barriers they face are city representatives saying, “that's not our job – it’s not something you use city government dollars to do. That’s the job of state, federal, and foundation dollars. Our job is to provide police and fire and this is somebody else's job”. 

Q: What were some of the bigger challenges and lessons?

A: The challenges we faced were political in nature. When you want to get money out of the government, its politicians that ultimately have to do it, or the public in our case. We had to put the issue before the public with an election. There were a number of things:

1) We are working in a field that has a huge amount of power because there are so many of us - youth workers, child care workers, and parents. What we do is so important but we're not good politicians. One of the challenges is how do you train a field to use its political power? 

It took years and years to get people to feel like “I can go into city hall; I can testify; I can bring parents from my program; I can be part of the budget process; I can walk precincts; I can become a political force for the things that I believe in”. That's a major change in how we think of ourselves, not just as people who care for kids and young people, but people who can use their political power to change policies.
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2) Part of the challenge is getting out of our bubble where everybody is a child care worker, and figure out who our allies are. I was in a meeting yesterday in another county where they're trying to do a children's fund and who's at the table? The iron workers. How do we align ourselves with labor? How do we align ourselves with the faith community? How do we develop a broader base of support for the things that we believe in? 

I’m as guilty as anyone. We use a language no one understands. So we have to learn a whole set of new skills. How do you talk to people who have no idea what you're talking about when you actually say “youth development”? It’s not a common phrase. What do you really mean by that? It’s a whole process of learning how to be in a political arena, in an arena where you have to persuade people.

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3) Another challenge is that the people in our field are really, really nice people. They don't like to talk about money, so they don't like to say we need money. Playing hardball politics is really, really hard. It doesn't come naturally to all people. 

4) How can we all get on the same page? How do we not fight with each other - the child care people fighting with the youth development people, fighting with the family support people? We have to learn how to develop a common agenda and work together or we diffuse our power and our ability to get things done.

Margaret Brodkin
Margaret Brodkin is a nationally recognized children’s advocate and policy pioneer and known as the “Mother of the San Francisco Children’s Fund,” a multi-million dollar annual fund that made San Francisco the first city in the country to provide local dedicated funding for children. She is currently Founder and Director of Funding the Next Generation.

Ms. Brodkin served 26 years as Director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth in San Francisco, California – turning a small community organization into an influential powerhouse for kids and a national model for creating a diverse and lasting local children’s movement. Ms. Brodkin later served as Director of San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth & Their Families. She then served as the Director of New Day for Learning – an intermediary partnership organization launching San Francisco’s community school initiative, resulting in the institutionalization of community schools as a centerpiece of the SFUSD education reforms.

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