Meet the Funders Behind the First Five Years Fund

We're always glad to hear when the philanthropic community joins forces with national policymakers to impact some of the most important issues facing the country, something that's been happening more often lately.

Earlier this year, there was My Brother's Keeper, a $200 million initiative to provide greater support to boys and young men of color. This week brought news of a much larger partnership focused on early childhood education. President Obama announced a new $1 billion public-private campaign to expand the availability of preschool programs for children across the country. Under this initiative, dubbed Invest in US, Washington will offer more than $700 million in grants for Preschool Development and Early Heard Start programs, with the remaining $300 million coming from philanthropic and corporate sources. An organization known as the First Five Years Fund (FFYF) will run the program.

You may not have heard of FFYF, but we bet you've heard of the Ounce of Prevention Fund. FFYF is a national advocacy effort affiliated with the Ounce, which focuses much of its work in Illinois, particularly the city of Chicago. FFYF and the Ounce of Prevention Fund share the same Chicago address, while FFYF also operates in Washington, DC. FFYF traces its beginnings to 2007, when a group of advocates for early childhood education saw a need to better leverage their funding for these activities. They formed FFYF to capitalize on the potential of public-private partnerships and bring together representatives from business, government, philanthropy, and academia.

Where's does the money coming from for this outfit? We're glad you asked, because it's a good window into the funding terrain for ECE, which is evolving fast, but where several long-time players remain pretty dominant players. 

A Who's Who of early childhood education funders comprise the biggest partners of FFYF. Partners listed on the FFYF website include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Irving Harris Foundation, the Packard Foundation, the George Kaiser Family Foundation, and Heising-Simons Foundation.

Another supporter, who we've recently written about is J.B. Pritzker, the Chicago philanthropist who's kicking in $25 million to support the White House push. 

The list of funders backing FFYF illustrates the organization's multi-level approach to early childhood funding and policy advocacy. Some of these foundations have funded national activities and projects, while others have concentrated their work in particular regions or their local communities.

Buffett is a longtime champion of the Ounce of Prevention Fund and FFYF. Gates has been involved in early childhood workmostly in its home state of Washingtonand brings a lot of experience with public-private partnerships to the table. Kellogg has supported research and advocacy work at the national level. Harris, meanwhile, concentrates on early childhood projects in Chicago and is a major supporter of the Ounce of Prevention Fund. Kaiser is the self-described "robber baron from red state America" whose foundation has built state-of-the-art early childhood centers in Oklahoma. 

Research is virtually unanimous on the value of early childhood education. It confers a range of benefits educational, social, and economicthat include greater K-12 achievement, college enrollment rates, lower rates of poverty, and higher lifetime earnings. However, only about a third of U.S. children receive early childhood education.

Efforts such as this new campaign led by FFYF will help keep the spotlight on this important policy area, As importantly, at least for our readers, it will create numerous funding opportunities for organizations with ideas for increasing early childhood enrollment and ensuring greater access to this vital early investment in America's future. Some big new money is coming into this field, and we'll be watching where it goes.