Elizabeth Burke Byrant '79
- By Jon Reidel
by Jon Reidel G’06
photograph by Mark Ostow
As founder and executive director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, Elizabeth Burke Bryant ’79 has been a powerful voice for children in the state’s halls of power across two decades. Her work creating and leading the policy and research organization focused on the health, safety, education, economic security, and development of Rhode Island’s children has made her a national leader in child advocacy. “There’s still so much work to do,” she says. “We know that getting a high-quality education has always been the road out of poverty. Every day we approach our work with that in mind and strive to make a difference through public policy in the lives of these children.”
The annual Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook provides data on dozens of child welfare measures and is considered an invaluable resource for policymakers, community leaders, and media. A quarterly Issue Brief Series and monthly cable television program also work to inform key stakeholders.
Bryant presents the Factbook to the governor, congressional delegation, and statewide officials at a highprofile breakfast attended by six hundred people. “It’s really meant to be a moment of taking stock of how we’re doing for children in Rhode Island,” says Bryant. “In order to be credible with our advocacy we absolutely needed to have the policy research and the latest reliable data to help inform the public policy decisions. We start with the statistics, and we really try to put a human face on those numbers.”
KIDS COUNT has helped change the lives of thousands of children. Progress spurred includes the expansion of health insurance to 94 percent of Rhode Island children; increased access to dental care for low-income children; Rhode Island’s Pre-K Program; and the creation of the Rhode Island Nurse Family Partnership Program for infants born at high risk, among others. KIDS COUNT also helped create the National School Readiness Indicators Initiative: Making Progress for Young Children, a seventeen-state initiative that establishes a set of measurable indicators related to school readiness that can be tracked at the state and local levels.
Bryant, who graduated from UVM with a degree in political science (husband Dan Bryant ’79 is also an alum), grew up around Rhode Island politics and has fond memories of her father running for mayor of Providence. “Politics is in the blood,” says Bryant, who won a seat in student government in her first year at UVM. “I look back on my UVM experience with such fondness and appreciation. It was an incredible leadership training experience for what I do now. I was able to work on issues I cared about and was made to feel like an equal partner with administration officials. I loved the idea of public policy having an impact on issues that meant something to me.”