All Aboard! Another Big Funder Buys Into Early Childhood Education

The Lilly Endowment's approach to education funding is to raise the overall education level of Indiana residents. Consequently, most grants from the Lilly Endowment have focused on K-12 and higher education programs.

The foundation has given money for early childhood education in the past, occasionally in decent chunks. But it's only recently that this funder has come around to the notion that investment in early childhood education is a key way to reduce achievement gaps and prepare children for educational and workplace success later in life.

Welcome to the party that it seems everyone is attending these days. 

The Lilly Endowment recently announced more than $22 million in grants to expand early learning opportunities across the Hoosier State. Lilly awarded a $20 million grant to Early Learning Indiana, enabling the organization to increase access and improve the quality of early childhood education programs statewide.

Through these grants, the Lilly Endowment hopes to help early childhood programs across Indiana meet the highest standards under the state's Paths to Quality (PTQ) system, adopted in 2007. Early Learning Indiana plans to use its funding from Lilly to help EC providers improve their curriculum, build new classrooms, provide professional development for teachers, and expand their outreach to families about the importance of quality child care and pre-school programs.

In addition to $20 million for Early Learning Indiana, the Lilly Endowment awarded $2.5 million to United Way of Central Indiana (UWCI) to support its ongoing work to improve early childhood programs in the greater Indianapolis area. Lilly is a longtime supporter of UWCI.

The Lilly Endowment boost to early childhood education in Indiana comes at a good time. According to the national organization Zero to Three, which advocates for early childhood education and policies, the Hoosier state ranks 31st in the nation for overall child well-being. More than half of the state's children under the age of 3 live in low-income families, and 61 percent have at least one risk factor associated with a greater chance of poor health and low developmental outcomes.

These Indiana grants also reflect broader trends in early childhood funding by foundations, as well as greater attention from national policymakers to the importance of those early years. President Obama recently announced a summit on early childhood education later this year. The meeting will convene leaders from philanthropic organizations, education, business, and government. During this summit, the White House is scheduled to announce a new round of Head Start and pre-school development grants.

The growing consensus around the importance of quality early childhood education is clear, with new commitments from government and from foundations such as the Lilly Endowment. This is good news for early childhood education providers, advocacy groups, and other organizations interested in expanding educational opportunities during those crucial early years.

Check out IP's Funding Guide for Early Childhood Ed