(HELENA) More than 100 educators, health care workers, state and local government representatives and other professionals from across Montana gathered in Helena Tuesday, to talk about how to improve early education opportunities for kids in the state.

They took part in the state’s first Early Childhood Collective Impact Institute. The event is designed to get organizations thinking about ways they can work together more effectively to help children.

Deb Halliday, one of the institute’s organizers, described Montana as “program-rich, but system-poor” when it comes to early childhood support.

“If we can work better together, if we can share what’s working in our local communities, as well as stay organized and connected at the state level, we know we’re going to do better for children,” said Halliday.

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Gov. Steve Bullock spoke to open the event. He highlighted the impact state-funded pilot preschool programs are already having for Montana children.

“We know that they will be ready when they enter kindergarten; we know that no matter where they came from, what their background is, that they will have every opportunity or at least the platform to succeed as every other child does,” said Bullock.

But Bullock said the state still needs to do more to give every child access to that kind of resource.

“Philanthropy cannot do this alone; relying on federal Head Start dollars – which are always too little for what you’re supposed to do – cannot do this alone,” he said. “If our clearly defined goal is that every child has that opportunity, the only way we’ll get it is through legislative action.”

The keynote speaker at Tuesday’s event was Jane Elyce Glasgow, the executive director of a collective impact program in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. Glasgow’s group, Minus 9 to 5, brings together a number of organizations to work on care and education, starting before a child is born and continuing until they turn 5. She pointed to studies showing that children’s health and life experiences before age 5 can have a serious impact on their future success in school.

The Montana Early Childhood Collective Impact Institute was sponsored by groups including the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, Montana Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies, Children’s Trust Fund and Montana Head Start.

Halliday said she hopes the institute will become an annual event.