When we at Children’s Funding Project talk about election results, we typically focus on ballot measures—those questions toward the end of your ballot that ask you about dedicating public dollars to programs and services for kids. These measures create voter-approved children’s funds, and there are currently 50 of these funds in communities across 11 states that generate about $1.5 billion annually for kids each year.

This November, there were five of these measures on local ballots (in Whatcom County, WA; Jackson County, MO; Sacramento, CA; Monterey, CA; and South San Francisco, CA), and one on a statewide ballot in New Mexico. (For the specific results of these campaigns, check out our companion “2022 Ballot Measure Recap” blog.) After the election, Children’s Funding Project, in partnership with Funding the Next Generation, brought together a few of the people who have been supporting and advising these campaigns to talk about what we learned. You can watch that conversation and read our top election takeaways below.


1. Opportunities persist, despite tricky conditions.

Going into this year’s election, north of 70% of Americans believed the country was on the wrong track and many Americans expressed high levels of economic anxiety and low levels of faith in government.  Consequently, this was a really tough climate in which to ask people to tax themselves and bet on government to help improve opportunities for kids, according Dave Metz of FM3 Research, a public policy-oriented opinion research firm. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic raised voter consciousness around the need for strong systems of infant and toddler care and youth mental health support. Furthermore, these issues were top of mind for voters. While the conflicting concerns of voters made it difficult to predict how ballot measures to establish voter-approved children’s funds would shake out, voter-approved children’s funds achieved more wins than losses this November.

History shows that while difficult conditions like severe inflation may dramatically impact voter sentiment—like we saw with this year’s ballot measure in Monterey County, CA— they don’t guarantee a negative result. (We learned that back in 2008 when five new voter-approved children’s funds were established even though our country was in the middle of the Great Recession.) While it’s tempting to wait years for an optimal time to put a measure on the ballot, preparation for a successful ballot measure campaign generally starts years in advance, long before we can predict the conditions of a given election cycle. If you wait for optimal conditions, you will likely miss out on opportunities for success at the ballot.

2. Focus on coalition building.

One opportunity you might miss by waiting for the perfect time to put a voter-approved children’s fund on the ballot is the opportunity to build coalitions, partnerships, and a constituency of voters who are educated about your community’s funding needs. The breadth, depth, and history of a coalition drastically impacts the power your campaign has to respond to both favorable and unfavorable conditions during your election cycle. Finding ways to create partnerships with unlikely allies increases the breadth of your coalition, allowing you to reach a wider range of voters. Creating a pathway for those unlikely allies to deepen their engagement allows you to utilize that breadth by turning passive supporters into outspoken champions of your effort. The Vote YES for Kids campaign in New Mexico credits the strength of its success to the multi-interest coalition the campaign nurtured. The coalition included many members who had never worked on an early childhood issue previously, but who were dedicated to mobilizing underrepresented voters. Matthew Henderson, executive director of OLÉ Education Fund, an organization that played a key grassroots organizing role in the campaign, shared that by funding voter mobilization groups to work on the election, the campaign gained both a huge field program and engaged long-term allies in the early childhood movement.

In Washington state, the Yes for Whatcom Kids effort successfully created a coalition with breadth, including conservative businesspeople and members of the real estate community who might normally oppose a property tax increase. But in hindsight, campaign leaders say they wished they’d worked to engage all of their coalition members more deeply earlier. After election day, the campaign team learned that stakeholders who the campaign thought were clear allies had actually voted against their measure. When the campaign assumed those stakeholders didn’t need to be convinced they left those stakeholders vulnerable to the messaging of the opposition. Campaign leaders believe that if they had created opportunities for those “obvious allies” to engage more deeply with the campaign they could have  converted them into well-informed champions of the effort, rather than passive supporters or at worst “no” votes.

3. Start with easier wins to build momentum.

One way to build your coalition and increase its readiness for a ballot measure campaign is to pick a related but easier-to-attain policy goal to rally around. This gives your coalition an opportunity to develop a history of working together and generates momentum for future efforts. In New Mexico, efforts to place the Land Grant Permanent Fund constitutional amendment on the ballot originally began in 2019 when the coalition also advocated for the creation of the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department. Previously, four different agencies within the state oversaw early childhood.  Creating a consolidated department dedicated to early care and education generated a clear place for funding from the Land Grant Permanent Fund to eventually live. Advocates in Louisiana used a similar strategy to convince the state legislature to create a Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund years before securing any actual early childhood funding to fill that pot! Meanwhile, at the local level (also in Louisiana), advocates in New Orleans started small by convincing the city council to make a one-time investment in early childhood. This set the stage for their advocacy for, and ultimate win, of a dedicated fund this past April. Each of these examples gave early childhood coalitions an opportunity to practice working together and resulted in policy wins that made future success at the ballot more likely.

4. Invest more in shaping the narrative.

When it comes down to it, most campaigns are won or lost based on the dominant narrative about them. There are always multiple narratives about a campaign for a voter-approved children’s fund, so campaign leaders need to take every possible opportunity to reinforce their messages.

The process of establishing the narrative begins before a measure is on the ballot. During our election recap, Todd Patterson of Public Progress, a firm that builds public affairs programs and spearheads ballot initiatives related to social infrastructure, highlighted some of the  elements that led to this year’s successful reauthorization (and increase of the sales tax levy) behind the Community Children’s Services Fund in Jackson County, MO. The campaign invested in educating the public about the impact the children’s services fund already had on the community. The leaders of the fund made an effort to educate the public about its impact for years, and built on that public education through the campaign’s paid digital advertising. Public charities (also known as 501c3 organizations) that are members of your coalition may not know that they can use their funding to support public education and digital advertising campaigns. It is crucial to educate your coalition about ways they can help spread your narrative even before your campaign starts.

It’s important to maximize every opportunity to control the narrative around your measure, from paid or earned media coverage down to how the actual measure is titled and written on the ballot. Margaret Brodkin of Funding the Next Generation has analyzed decades of children’s funding-related questions on local California ballots and found that how the question is written is a key indicator of how the measure will fare. If the question emphasizes the potential impact of the fund, it is more likely to achieve success. If instead it emphasizes the funding mechanism and leaves kids as an afterthought, it is more likely to fail. The same is true for the actual title of the measure. For instance, in Sacramento, the formal title of this year’s ballot measure, which succeeded, was the “Sacramento Children and Youth Health and Safety Act,” which emphasized the goals of the fund. By contrast, in South San Francisco, the measure, which failed, was titled “Citizen-sponsored Parcel Tax Initiative,” which drew voter attention to the tax while failing to mention the purpose of the investment. If you can get all narrative drivers to point toward how your measure potentially will impact children and families, you have a much greater chance of voters saying “yes” to healthy, happy, safe babies instead of “no” to a new tax at the ballot.

5. Never give up.

This is a familiar refrain for those who have followed along with Children’s Funding Project and Funding the Next Generation’s work. While it’s not exactly a new lesson learned, it is one that was underscored for us this year. For all of the wins on the ballot this year, success has been years in the making, and several experienced multiple failed prior attempts. In New Mexico, the effort to place the constitutional amendment on the ballot failed for 10 years before this year’s success. Meanwhile, in Sacramento, the campaign failed at the ballot twice before winning this year. Earlier this year in April we saw the success of the New Orleans Early Childhood Millage, which came after a disappointing loss in December 2020. In each of these cases, advocates turned failure into momentum for a future success.

We hope you can use these takeaways to shape your campaigns for voter-approved children’s funds on the 2023 and 2024 ballots. If you’re interested in pursuing a measure in your community contact us to learn more about the resources and support we can provide. If you are considering a ballot measure in California specifically, register to attend an introductory meeting on January 12, 2023, to learn about the technical assistance, peer support, and campaign training Funding the Next Generation can provide your team.

Olivia Allen is strategy director at Children’s Funding Project.