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Daniel Weintraub

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March 8, 2006

Using public dollars to change minds on preschool

The controversial preschool-for-all ad campaign paid for with public funds and timed to coincide with the unveiling of Rob Reiner’s universal preschool initiative had its roots in a 2002 memorandum that laid out a detailed strategy for changing the public’s mind on the issue.

The memo, which you can see in pdf form here, was prepared by GMMB, the same ad firm whose principals have close ties to Reiner and created the $23 million campaign that began airing late last year just as Reiner and his allies began to seek signatures for the initiative that will appear on the June ballot as Proposition 82.

The memo is filled with references that are likely to inflame passions on this issue, including:

--The authors saw as a problem the fact that polling had revealed that most Californians didn’t want universal preschool.

“There is considerable support for and understanding of the importance of the early years, but little demand for the state to do more,” the memo says. “The needs of children ages zero to five are ranked as a lower priority than the needs of adolescents, seniors and children with disabilities. These findings are consistent across ethnic groups. Even parents of young children say the needs of seniors and adolescents are greater than the needs of children zero to five.”

--The opinion research zeroed in on why this was the case:

“People see the early years as primarily the responsibility of parents,” the memo says.

To change that opinion, the authors said, “We must break the constantly reinforced impression that ‘education’ starts at the age of five. In many respects, our biggest challenge is the fact that most people unquestionably believe that everything before the age of five is ‘preparation’ and therefore the responsibility of parents, and ‘education’ does not start until five.

--Those people who did support a government role in preschool thought that subsidies should be directed only at the poor.

“Right now, there are strong predispositions to believe that state programs should be means-based. And of course, in an era of scarce resources, it makes sense to prioritize low-income families. However, if the long-term goal is universal availability of early education programs, we must begin to lay the groundwork now.”

--Women, blacks and Latinos were most likely to be moved by the arguments of an advertising campaign. White men seemed “relatively disinterested” in the issue.

“While it is tempting to respond to this finding by treating them as a prime target, we believe it makes more sense to devote resources to moving the groups most likely to be moved. Our goal for white men should be acquiescence, not activism.”

--The memo suggested continuing an existing education program aimed at showing parents and caregivers how they could make a difference in the lives of children. The commission should do this, the memo said, “not just because it is important in and of itself, but also because it will also help to create more demand for improved programs from the state.”

That idea – using public dollars to “create demand” for a new state preschool entitlement – was at the heart of the strategy and is repeated throughout the memo.

The benchmarks for measuring success were whether the campaign increased “the perceived need for California to do more” and whether the advertising was able to “reduce the age at which people believe the state should offer” organized education.

“If we can move those numbers,” the memo said, “it will mean we are both creating demand and changing the perception that formal education begins at the age of five. Accomplishing these goals will pave the way for making the case on behalf of a greater state role for children in their first five years of life.”

Note: Bill Bradley had a blog post Tuesday on the advertising contract with the same firm that discusses some of these same themes.

See the Bee’s story here on the resignation of Prop. 82’s campaign manager, who was also being paid with public funds as a consultant to the Reiner coimmission.

 
 

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