The Children's Movement of Florida launched in 2010, but its origins date back to 1996 when then-Gov. Lawton Chiles asked 55 citizens from around the state to make recommendations for the future of public education in the next millennium.
Among them was David Lawrence Jr., then publisher of The Miami Herald. He chaired a task force on "school readiness" that led to an important 1999 law consolidating early childhood education and child-care programs into one integrated program.
Convinced that quality early learning was fundamental to the future of the state and the country, Lawrence retired from a distinguished, three-decade-long journalism career in 1999 to devote his full-time energies to early childhood initiatives.
Joining him were two generous and public-spirited Miami couples, Dr. Jane and Gerald Katcher and Jan and Daniel Lewis, and together they formed The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, which became a national model for high-quality early childhood development, care and education. The foundation’s work has promoted a dramatic increase in high-quality child care and early learning centers, and helped tens of thousands of children get health insurance coverage.
In 2001, the foundation launched a successful public awareness campaign, Teach More/Love More, which became the model for today's statewide Help Me Grow parenting resource program.
In addition, the foundation's efforts led to other major successes, including two in the fall of 2002:
- In September, Miami-area voters agreed by a 2-1 margin to increase their property taxes to create a dedicated funding source, The Children's Trust of Miami-Dade, charged with giving children the essential foundations to achieve their full potential.
- In November, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment - championed by Lawrence and others - to make high-quality pre-kindergarten available and free for all 4 year-olds in the state.
Then in 2008, the Children's Trust was required by law to be reauthorized by Miami-Dade voters, who this time approved it by an overwhelming 86 percent.
Those successes prompted Lawrence and other early-childhood advocates to begin planning for a much larger statewide movement to make Florida the best state in the nation for young children. Within two years, The Children's Movement of Florida began, with Lawrence serving as chairman of the board. The Movement is focused on making Florida’s children, especially in their early years, the No. 1 priority for state investment.
Since the Movement's start, two other couples, Mike and Constance Fernandez of Miami and Barney and Carol Jenkins Barnett of Lakeland, have been key benefactors along with the Katchers.