According to the findings of a recent European study on competence requirement for the early childhood education and care workforce, competent systems that succeed in achieving high levels of professionalism are embedded in coherent public policies that build on consultation with key stakeholders, particularly at local level. In order to flourish, the professional competence of early childhood practitioners needs to be cultivated not only within the institutions they are working for, but also within a constant democratic dialogue that involves children, parents and local communities. A vision of ECEC as a public good therefore becomes an essential precondition for sustaining the development of high quality services for young children and their families. Given the wide range of interconnected socio-economic, educational and rights-based rationales that currently underpin the investment in the expansion of early childhood provision in many European countries, a further elaboration of these findings may offer interesting insights on the purposes of early childhood education and the nature of political commitment serving such purposes. In this article, these issues are discussed by drawing on the analysis of the origin and development of municipal preschool education in the Emilia Romagna region (Italy). Starting from the investigation of the historical and socio-cultural conditions that gave birth to early childhood municipal institutions, the trends characterising ECEC policy-making developments over time are analysed with reference to the experiences of grassroot politics elaborated at regional and local level. Through a careful contextualisation of social and political processes and an in-depth analysis of relevant documentary sources, the conceptual categories underpinning the construction of early childhood education as a public good are outlined and described.