Behind Packard’s Investment in Acelero Learning

Early childhood education holds an important place in the funding strategy of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Its Children, Families, and Communities program includes funding early learning programs. Recently, Packard threw its support to a company that has shown promise in ECE practices.

Acelero Learning announced this week that it had received a $4 million program-related investment loan from the Packard Foundation to enable it to continue its growth and provide some return to its initial investors. Program-related investments, or PRIs, are similar to grants, except that the recipients pay back the funds over time, and the funds are not restricted to nonprofit organizations. Acelero is a for-profit company.

Based in Harlem, Acelero Learning began in 2001 as a provider of early childhood education and family engagement services. It focuses on closing achievement gaps for children and families participating in the federal Head Start program. It operates in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. Acelero's supporters and investors include the Kellogg Foundation, the New Schools Venture Fund, the Richard M. Goldman Family Foundation, and nonprofit investor Boston Community Capital.

For Packard, the assistance to Acelero is consistent with its early learning interests. The funder is one of the organizations supporting the First Five Years Fund, the national ECE advocacy movement affiliated with the Ounce of Prevention Fund. Packard joined Gates, Kellogg, Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Irving Harris Foundation, George Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

Acelero sees the support from Packard as a key endorsement from a major philanthropic organization of its approach to early childhood education and closing achievement gaps in the critical early years. That approach appears to show some promise. The company reported that children who participate in its program show test results that are nearly double those of a national sample of Head Start students on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test. The PPVT is an assessment of English vocabulary that has been administered to children between the ages of 2 and 6.

As part of the Packard-fueled expansion, Acelero’s board will expand to include two new members with solid backgrounds in ECE and social entrepreneurship. Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, president of the National Alliance of Hispanic Families and a former director of the Office of Head Start, and Georgia Levenson Keohane, director of the Profits and Purpose Program at the New America Foundation, will the newest directors at Acelero.