Each year, Children’s Funding Project presents the Children’s Funding Champion award to an individual or campaign that has played a significant role in the movement to support the establishment and successful implementation of local voter-approved children’s funds. This year, we are pleased to name the members of the Yes for NOLA Kids Campaign the 2023 Children’s Funding Champions for their persistence, resilience, local impact, and commitment to giving back to the national movement.

“It is such an honor to receive this award,” said Hamilton Simons-Jones, who served as the Yes for NOLA Kids campaign committee secretary and is founder and principal of ResourceFull Consulting. “When we first came to the Children’s Funding Institute four years ago, we weren’t sure that winning a dedicated fund for early childhood education at the ballot was even possible in New Orleans. We are so thankful to the Children’s Funding Project and this community for helping us believe in and understand what is possible, advising us every step of the way, and even helping us fundraise for our campaign.”

Our team first met the future Yes for NOLA Kids campaign advocates at our 2019 Children’s Funding Institute—a three-day training event for communities pursuing children’s funding ballot measures. At that time, early childhood advocates in New Orleans had already successfully secured the city’s first appropriation of local funds for the New Orleans City Seats early childhood education program. But they knew that initial success would make only a small dent in the city’s need for additional access to child care.

In 2020, advocates began meeting with Mayor LaToya Cantrell to discuss including an allocation to expand the City Seats program in the administration’s proposed package of property tax renewals. The advocates succeeded in ensuring an allocation of property tax revenue for early childhood education would appear on the December 2020 ballot as part of the mayor’s proposal. Advocates then moved quickly to launch the Yes for Children’s Success PAC to support the early childhood millage. However, many saw the structure of the package as pitting early childhood education against local public libraries and voiced their opposition, leading the coalition supporting the campaign to break down—and the ballot measure failed to pass.

Undeterred, advocates seized on the recent campaign’s polling results, which revealed that voters were willing to increase their property taxes for early care and education (rather than reallocate property taxes from a service like the libraries). This gave advocates new resolve and desire to be more ambitious in the amount of funding they pursued. While the failed ballot measure would have secured $1.5 million annually, advocates came back with a new proposal that would secure seven times that amount, or $21 million annually, and add up to 2,000 new high-quality child care slots for infants and toddlers from low-income families to the City Seats program. After years of organizing and advocacy by numerous partners in New Orleans and across Louisiana, the Yes for NOLA Kids campaign successfully passed this proposal by ballot measure on April 30, 2022, with 61% of the vote.

“Although losing back in 2020 was hard, we are so appreciative that we had that chance to learn and go back with something even better [in 2022],” said Simons-Jones.

In the months since their victory, members of the Yes for NOLA Kids campaign have given back to the national movement of communities pursuing and implementing voter-approved children’s funds. Between 2019 and 2022, a team from the campaign participated in our cohort of communities pursuing voter-approved children’s funds, which meets monthly for training, peer discussion, or one-on-one technical assistance from the Children’s Funding Project team. Since 2022, former campaign members Simons-Jones and Jillian Delos Reyes have continued to contribute to the next iteration of the cohort as presenters and trainers themselves. Campaign member Rochelle Wilcox also agreed to volunteer on the board of Children’s Funding Accelerator, our sister organization and pooled political fund that contributes to ballot measure campaigns across the country.

Lastly, Jennifer Roberts of Agenda for Children (which now administers the funding won at the ballot in 2022) has joined our community of practice that supports managers of existing voter-approved children’s funds. When we spoke with Roberts to see how implementation is going, she said, ”by the time we went to the ballot we had four years of strong evaluation data, governance structures in place, accountability measures, and a smart implementation process” for the City Seats program, so even though the fund is only three months into implementing the funding, the program has a strong start.

“The millage money is not just to support infant and toddler seats but is a lasting investment in a citywide infrastructure that includes improving facilities and investment in the workforce,” she added.

Congratulations to our new Children’s Funding Champions, the advocates from the Yes for NOLA Kids campaign.

Marina Mendoza is manager for early childhood impact and Olivia Allen is strategy director at Children’s Funding Project.