Funding Early Childhood Education

Funding Trends

Research shows that investing in quality early childhood programs, particularly for at-risk children and girls, delivers some of the highest returns on investment. These funds work to improve education, health, social, and economic outcomes, as well as addressing increased productivity and reduced levels of social spending.

When compared to other OECD countries, the United States spends a miniscule amount (about one-quarter) on programs and systems that support the development of children from birth to five. Some estimates suggest that roughly 10% of all foundation education funding, not including higher ed, is dedicated to early learning, a small share given its importance. While philanthropy cannot replace the need for government action, it can help to spur investment through changes to early childcare and education systems and policies. 

Some foundations, like the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, have spearheaded philanthropic efforts for early childhood learning and development, dedicating significant resources to local and state efforts designed to implement system-wide improvements like early prenatal screenings and early development assessments. Prominent national funders include Ford Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Another giving strategy commonly centers on funding kindergarten readiness. While this approach is not necessarily distinct from investing in early childhood, it often focuses on replicating programs — including literacy programs, “parent and me” programs and other initiatives — that promote parents as a child’s first teacher. Prominent funders include Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, The William Penn Foundation, Pew Charitable Trust and The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Inc.

Several philanthropists support early childhood nonprofits at the local level; however, a number of large national funders conduct related work in this space, which includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.

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