Early Education Dollars on the Rise

There has been an uptick in philanthropic funds to increase the availability and quality of early education services in the past several months. Two leading foundations have made large commitments to the field.

The Chicago-based Zell Family Foundation has announced a $10 million gift to the Ounce Of Prevention Fund to increase access to high-quality early childhood education for children from low-income families across America.

The foundation, which traditionally doesn’t publicize the parameters of its grant making, is a long-time supporter of early childhood education. Helen Zell, the foundation’s executive director, has served on the Ounce of Prevention’s board of directors since 1996 and led its first capital campaign.

“All children deserve the chance to achieve their full potential. We know the most effective way to help low-income children is by nurturing strong relationships between them and their families and caregivers, starting at birth,” said Zell, in a statement. “The Ounce has been a leader in the early learning field for more than 30 years, and we are proud to help them expand their reach and impact to serve more families than ever before.”

The Ounce of Prevention Fund serves 4,000 children and families through Early Head Start and Head Start programs they fund and operate in Chicago. They also conduct research and evaluations, as well as early childhood workforce trainings.

This gift, the largest the organization has ever received, will be used to increase the efficacy of policies and practices in the field at large. Specifically, the funds will target three areas: strengthening the capacity and skills of early learning professionals, equipping parents with tools and supports to become leaders of their families and communities and leading the early childhood education transformation by advancing quality learning policies.

Ounce of Prevention Vice President of Development Barbara Hoffman elaborated on the relationship between the organization and foundation in a statement.

“This is a watershed moment for the Ounce,” said Hoffman. The grant will help “launch brighter futures for the six million young children living in poverty across the country.”

Also announced this month was a $22.5 million investment in high quality early education by the Indianapolis-based Lily Endowment. It awarded most of the money to Early Learning Indiana, an agency of United Way of Central Indiana that operates seven Indianapolis-area child care centers.

The funds will be used to help at least 400 early childhood education providers improve their programs and outreach efforts. The funds will be used to help providers improve curriculum, build new classrooms, educate and engage parents about the importance of high-quality child care and pre-school programs, and support professional development for early childhood teachers.

Lily also awarded $2.5 million to United Way of Central Indiana (UWCI) to help providers improve curriculum, build new classrooms and strengthen business practices. In 2012, the UWCI received a $ 1 million grant from Lily to help launch a 10-year plan to increase the quality and quantity of early childhood education programs.

“These new grants extend and deepen the endowment’s commitment to improve the quality of early childhood education across Indiana,” said Lily Vice President for Education Sara Cobb. “We know that the children who participate in these high-quality programs will have brighter, more successful futures. Indiana will be better because of it.”

Judith Fenlon is the Money & Business Editor for The Imprint.

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