“In most states in the nation, early education costs more that college so we’re really showing how important this is to moms across the nation and educating leaders about how critical affordable early education is for families and for educating their kids.”
Executive Director/CEO Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner and Deputy Director Donna Norton
by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is the Executive Director/CEO of MomsRising.org. Donna Norton serves as the Deputy Director. Together, they co-founded MomsRising.org, an on-the-ground and online grassroots organization of more than a million people who are working to achieve economic security for all moms, women, and families in the United States.
Steven: How did you both begin your work in Early Learning?
Kristen: MomsRising was launched in May of 2006 with a handful of moms and it has turned into over a million moms with members in every state of the nation in the decade that followed. Early learning has been a priority for our members since the beginning. In particular, our members care deeply about access, affordability, and excellence in early learning and in childcare opportunities for all children. And so from the very beginning, the launch of MomsRising is when our interest in early learning and childcare was also launched.
Donna: Just to echo that it’s a huge issue for our members. It’s become such a struggle for moms to figure out how to find affordable, high quality early learning. In most states in the nation, early education costs more that college so we’re really showing how important this is to moms across the nation and really educating leaders about how critical affordable early education is for families and for educating their kids.
Steven: Can you both talk a little bit about your backgrounds and how you came to this work?
Kristen: Joan Blades and I co-wrote the Motherhood Manifesto and then after the book was published, it was turned into a documentary film and we decided after that the next step was to work for change and so we cofounded MomsRising along with a committee of women including Donna. My son, who’s now 19 years old and healthy, was born with a primary immune system deficiency and I was working in the environmental policy field. I ended up having to quit my job in an unplanned way when he was born in order to take care of him and because he couldn’t be in childcare and early learning due to his illness. So I had a moment when I realized that I was my mom was primarily single when I was growing up and I realized that if I didn’t by luck have a husband whose job’s health care covered us in our time of need and who made enough money to cover food on the table and a roof over our heads and for this unplanned emergency that it could have been an outright disaster. And in fact, it probably would have been an outright disaster for my mom, who was single. I did some research and I started writing about the topic and looking about the topic and really started understanding that luck alone shouldn’t determine the outcome of a child’s life. Luck alone shouldn’t determine if a child can thrive or not. And so from there started writing about the policies in magazines. And I wrote a book called The F-Word: Feminism in Jeopardy and then co-wrote the Motherhood Manifesto, looking at what it takes to make sure that businesses and families can all thrive and having access to high-quality affordable early learning and childcare opportunities is absolutely critical to having our business, our families, and our economy thrive.
Donna: My story is that I was actually working in domestic violence, doing domestic violence prevention work and had two kids and was really struggling to make it all work and realizing that I was barely making any money after the costs of childcare for two kids and decided to stay at home for a couple of years cause it made more sense and really started reading about motherhood and realizing I wasn’t the only one struggling to figure out how to combine career and family and how to make it all work economically and logistically for my life and sort of reading about motherhood and came across Kristin and Joan writing their book and helping with their book and started working on motherhood issues ever since then.
Steven: What do you see as the role of MomsRising in improving quality and access to high quality early learning programs?
Kristen: The role of MomsRising is that we know 84 million moms in America really desperately need access to affordable high-quality childcare. And so our role is to open avenues for busy people to be heard because not only do we know that we have a national emergency when it comes to access to childcare and early learning that’s high quality. We know that we have moms, who are busier than ever, moms are juggling an unprecedented number of roles at the same time and so have very little time for advocacy and policy engagement. MomsRising’s job is to find the points at which moms can make the most difference, open avenues for those moms to share their experiences, share their stories, share their thoughts and feelings on policy, share their contributions and needs with leaders, who have the ability to make a difference with the media, who have the ability to help shape our culture and with each other so that each person knows that when this many people are having this many problems at this many times. We don’t have an epidemic of personal failings. We have structural issues that we have to address and solve together and in doing so, we are empowering our members to be engaged for the better of our country.
Donna: I think that parents have to be part of the solution and we’re part of the system for educating children that we have a lot of wisdom and knowledge to share and we also have a lot to learn so we need to be part of that solution.
Steven: Why is the President’s proposal to provide high-quality early learning and development programs for our children important to our country and what do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities?
Kristen: MomsRising applauds the president for putting childcare and early learning policy center stage when it belongs! One of the things that’s important about his policy placement is that for too long these policies have been set aside and siloed and ignored and since they don’t have economic impact. But with women now 50% of the labor force and 40% of primary breadwinners are moms, childcare and early learning polices are absolutely critical to our overall economic success so we at MomsRising applaud President Obama for raising these policies in a way that everybody needs to respond and be involved with them.
Donna: Echoing what Kristen said, it’s so important for our nation to invest in early learning and we’re so happy that the President has been a leader and really sharing that message. It makes so much sense in terms of our economy and where we are really getting a great return on investment in terms of where we’re investing in the budget. For every dollar that we spend on early learning, we get eight dollars in return –in terms of what it costs for remedial education, we have better earnings when people finish their education, better retention of students in schools so really totally makes sense for our nation to invest in early learning and we’re so happy the President has really taken leadership and prioritizing those investments. Then of course, the challenge is getting our whole Congress to agree to those investments and parents are really key in letting their members of Congress know this is a priority for families and a priority for our nation.