The August 2010 edition of Family Giving News featured the new study, Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters, a KIDS COUNT Special Report documenting the conclusive evidence of a direct link between proficiency in reading by third grade and the likelihood that a child will fall into, or remain stuck in, poverty throughout life. The August feature included profiles of two family foundations playing leadership roles on the issue of early childhood literacy in their communities.

This month, we feature brief summaries of the work of several other family funders active in this area, along with descriptions of regional and network networks of funders focused on early childhood education.

Examples of family funders include:

  • The Irene A. and George Davis Foundation in Springfield, Massachusetts has recently refocused its Cherish Every Child program around the core message that to become a successful reader by fourth grade, every Springfield child needs support from family, school and community. The Springfield MCAS results for 2009 say that 2/3 of Springfield 3rd graders are not reading proficiently, and research shows that catching up in later years is very difficult. Driven by this data and by research indicating that children who are read to and talked to from birth do better in school and in life, Cherish Every Child just issued Reading Success by 4th Grade: A Blueprint for Springfield in June 2010. It sets a community-wide goal that 80% of Springfield’s 3rd graders will achieve reading proficiency by 2016.
  • The William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund’s Discovery initiative aims to effect community change and policy reform to create an early childhood system that ensures early learning success for all children. The Fund believes that through collaborative work with communities, statewide partners and government agencies, Discovery contributes to a common goal: Connecticut children of all races and income levels are ready for school by age five and are successful learners by age nine.
  • The Pritzker Early Childhood Foundation is a small family foundation in Chicago established by members from multiple branches of the Pritzker family who share a strong personal commitment to philanthropy as well as a profound concern for youngsters in low-income families and needy communities.
  • The Stuart Foundation in San Francisco works toward the development of education systems that provide opportunities for all students to be engaged, to achieve, and to develop the skills, knowledge and ability to be successful in further education or career choices. The foundation supports comprehensive and integrated programs and practices that serve as demonstrations for system-wide adoption and to inform public policy.
  • The Zeist Foundation in Atlanta embraces a holistic approach to address the needs of children, youth and families in the areas of education, arts & culture and health & human services. The Foundation seeks opportunities to leverage its investments in organizations that are innovative, collaborative, and sustainable in serving children, youth, and families.

MOVING FORWARD: COLLABORATION IS CRITICAL

Coalitions of funders focused on early childhood education continue to emerge at the regional and national level. “Philanthropy is one piece of what we call the public-private partnership,” said Arthur M. Blank Foundation President & Trustee Penelope McPhee at an April 2010 event announcing the release of the Early Warning report in Georgia. “We all know that in this business, these sectors have to come together to tackle the big issues. None of us can do this by ourselves.”

Some of the most successful networks of early childhood education funders include:

  • In San Francisco, the Bay Area Early Childhood Funders is an informal affiliation of foundations, donors, and corporations with an interest in funding projects that support young children and their families. The group meets 3-4 times a year to broaden knowledge of the early childhood field and to share insights, grant-making opportunities and informational resources.
  • In Minnesota, a group of funders including family foundations, private foundations and donor funds formed The School Readiness Funders Coalition to provide leadership on developing a comprehensive plan to improve the state’s current early childhood education system. In March 2010, they released The Agenda to Achieve Learning Readiness by 2020 . In the conclusion of the 9-page report, the Coalition lays out what it sees as the specific and immediate role of philanthropy:

“The School Readiness Funders Coalition will support… the initial development of a statewide ECCE report card, and to fund a statewide public information campaign to educate Minnesotans about the importance of investing in ECCE for Minnesota’s future. In addition, consistent with our respective missions and grant guidelines we will seek to align our existing grant making with the priorities of the proposed ECCE framework.”

The Coalition has also produced a helpful one-pager on how the Agenda must be implemented and tracked.

  • The Early Childhood Funders’ Collaborative (ECFC) is a national affiliation of individuals who serve as staff at foundations or corporate giving programs that have substantial grantmaking portfolios in early childhood care and education. ECFC was formed by grantmakers to provide opportunities for networking, information sharing and strategic grantmaking.
  • The Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS) is a new philanthropic partnership founded to help Georgia become a national leader in ensuring that children enter kindergarten ready to learn and on a path to “read to learn” by third grade. The coalition, chaired by Blank Foundation trustee Stephanie Blank, will offer strategic assistance to existing providers, funders and other key stakeholders in early learning and care.
  • Out of School Time (OST) Funders Network: This network, affiliated with Grantmakers for Education, builds knowledge, shares effective practices, and forges collaboration within the OST grantmaking community.

Do you know of another philanthropic coalition or network focused on early childhood education or reading readiness? Please let us know.

CONCLUSION

The National Center is currently working on a Passages issue paper profiling several of the nation’s most creative family funders in the area of early childhood education. A copy of the published paper will be available to Family Giving News readers and others in the National Center’s network later this fall.