The 2019 Landscape: What Do New Governors and Legislation Mean for State Children’s Cabinets So Far?

In January 2019, on the heels of gubernatorial elections, twenty new governors assumed office in states across the country, bringing with them new policies, priorities, and people. One critical and under-recognized area of impact? State-level children’s coordinating bodies–often known as children’s cabinets–which bring together state and sometimes private agencies whose work promotes the wellbeing of children and youth. Moreover, some state legislatures have recently taken action on children’s cabinets.  Half a year into these new administrations, where do states stand?

Which Governors Are Reinvigorating Children’s Cabinets?

New governors in at least four states–Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, and New Mexico–are placing renewed emphasis on Children’s Cabinets.  Moreover, several governors bring prior experience as members of Children’s Cabinets.

In Kansas, recently-elected Governor Laura Kelly (D) has appointed a new leadership team to head the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund, which Governor Kelly herself served on while a state senator. Naming non-profit consultant Kim Moore as Cabinet Chair and former State Representative Melissa Rooker as Executive Director, the Governor plans to reinvigorate the work of the Cabinet to realize her vision of universal access to high-quality early childhood programs across the state. Celebrating 20 years since its inception, the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund is directed by state statute to make evidence-based recommendations for investments in early childhood programs using funding from the Master Tobacco Settlement annual payments.

In Maine, former Governor LePage quietly shut down the Children’s Cabinet functions during his time in office since 2011. New Governor Janet Mills (D) announced plans to revitalize Maine’s Children’s Cabinet, which are now underway. Established by statute, Maine’s Children’s Cabinet met in May for the first time since 2010, bringing together Commissioners from five departments with the Governor’s office and staff. The cabinet outlined two main focus areas for the cabinet: 1) creating a comprehensive early child care and early education system and 2) supporting at-risk youth and their families.

In Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz (D) declared setting the state’s children’s cabinet as a priority for his administration. Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan have since relaunched the state’s children’s cabinet, led by Erin Bailey. Like other state cabinets, Minnesota’s children’s cabinet consists of commissioners from across state departments.

In New Mexico, new Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) is reinvigorating the Children’s Cabinet after a reduced presence under the prior administration. Each of the new secretaries appointed by Governor Lujan Grisham to her 11 cabinet posts, plus Lieutenant Governor Howie Morales, sits on the cabinet. Mariana Padilla serves as the new director for New Mexico’s Children’s Cabinet, which is administered through the Governor’s office and outlined by state statute.

Which States Are Legislating Cabinets for the First Time?

In North Dakota, Governor Burgum (R) signed a bill in April that created a children’s cabinet with members including the Governor, Chief Justice, legislators, the State Superintendent, tribal representatives, and parents. The bill signed by Governor Burgum also creates a commission on juvenile justice that reports to the cabinet and which expires in 2025.

In North Carolina, 2018 legislation under Governor Cooper (D) created the North Carolina Child Well-Being Transformation Council, also called the Children’s Council, for the purpose of coordination, collaboration, and communication among agencies and organizations involved in providing public services to children. Located administratively in the General Assembly, the Children’s Council consists of 25 members ranging from legislators to leaders of public and private youth services to children’s advocates. The North Carolina Children’s Council has two full-time staff: Council Coordinator Vaughn Crawford and Council Assistant Laura Holt-Kabel, who are both full-time staff of the General Assembly.

How Else Are States in Transition Addressing Children’s Cabinets?

In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis (D) continued the Colorado Statewide Youth Development Plan upon taking office in January 2019. The legislation, originally signed in 2013 by then-Governor Hickenlooper and written to require a biennial update, identifies key issues affecting youth and aligns strategic efforts to achieve positive outcomes for all youth. The plan remains largely true to its origins, though has been updated under Governor Polis and incorporates new strategies, revisions, and priorities.

In Ohio, Governor DeWine (R) issued an Executive Order that created some shifts in staffing and organization of the state’s children’s efforts. Governor DeWine established a Governor’s Office of Children’s Initiatives, bringing with him a director who had led similar work when DeWine was Ohio’s Attorney General. The power to convene Ohio’s children’s cabinet now lies with this Director of Children’s Initiatives. New Executive Director of Children’s Initiatives, Sarah LaTourette, brings her experience advocating in the State General Assembly for children’s efforts.

While Virginia has previously had a children’s cabinet, Governor Northam (D) reestablished the children’s cabinet via Executive Order when he assumed office in January 2018. The new version of the cabinet, chaired by First Lady Pamela Northam, places a new focus on early childhood.

In Georgia, Governor Kemp (R) issued an Executive Order transferring the Children’s Cabinet to the Department of Early Care and Learning, which previously served as the fiscal agent, and created both an Executive and Full Children’s Cabinet. The Cabinet is co-chaired by Early Care and Learning Commissioner Amy Jacobs and Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement Joy Hawkins while First Lady Marty Kemp serves as honorary chair.

Wisconsin’s new Governor, Tony Evers (D), has brought into office a mission to reinvigorate Wisconsin’s Early Childhood Advisory Council after serving as the head of the Council  for the past eight years as State Superintendent. Governor Evers brings with him to Co-Chair the ECAC his previous Chief of Staff, Katie Domina, maintaining institutional knowledge about the Council across the transition.

What to Watch for in States

States to keep an eye on for new developments include California, Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma. In some of these states, legislation is in the process of being passed so cabinets may be forming soon. In others, governors have publicly expressed interest in beginning the process of forming or revitalizing their children’s cabinets.

One key finding in the Forum for Youth Investment’s 2017 Biennial State Policy Survey was an overwhelming response that children’s cabinets were struggling with a lack of funds. As new, reinvigorated, or continuing children’s cabinets move forward, will funding follow? And what other support, such as staffing or policy priority, will their work receive?