Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Grants for Early Childhood Education

OVERVIEW: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has featured an ECE component to its giving for a number of years. It historically focused exclusively on the importance of creating connections between public and private sectors in the state of Washington, but is now open to grantmaking nationally. The foundation has established a number of partnerships with early childhood education nonprofits, and has supported ECE through funding at a high level.




IP TAKE: As the largest private foundation in the United States, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation can be overwhelming for first-time grantees, and the foundation's ECE funding has been mostly geared towards funding research, collaboration, and advocacy rather than direct service providers. However, the the effort can be rewarding, as first-time recipients have often remained on the foundation's radar for future grants.




PROFILE: Founded by technology icon Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, the Gates Foundation's massive scope is based on the simple premise "that all lives have equal value." The foundation therefore seeks "to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs, wherever they live."  Internationally, the foundation focuses on less industrialized countries with the goal of "improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty."  Its U.S. Program, meanwhile, is focused on education-related issues with the goal of providing all people (particularly those with limited means) "access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life."

Historically, the foundation focused its efforts only on Washington state and the Pacific Northwest, but recently expanded to a broader focus that also includes "Best Practice and Program Implementation" and "National Policy and Advocacy." These areas include the identification of exemplar programs, as well as partnering with local, state, and national partners on program and workforce development.  That said, the current strategy is still in formation, so fundraisers should check regularly for updates as the foundation refines its approach.

One of the foundation's most notable efforts in early education is the Early Learning Program of its Washington state Strategy, which began in 2005. The Early Learning Program works "to ensure that every child has high-quality early learning opportunities that support kindergarten readiness and elementary school achievement." To that end, Gates works with major area ECE groups, including:

  • Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS), which helps to improve elementary school readiness at the kindergarten level
  • Washington's Voluntary Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), which concentrates on improving noneducational child care by helping licensed providers offer high-quality child care
  • Preschool Through Third Grade Alignment (P-3), which integrates district and other learning providers to help kids transition more productively into early elementary school 




While some grants may be as small as $1,000, the normal ECE grant for the Gates Foundation is often well into the six figures higher, and many grants are multi-year in scope. Recipients of recent grants from the foundation have been diverse in focus. Some examples are: 

  • $250,000 to the State of Washington Department of Early Learning "to refine and plan implementation of a Master Data Management process and tool"
  • $812,000 to the Children's Alliance to help improve student outcomes through "coordination of organizations advocating for early learning"
  • $400,00 to Rutgers University "to support data and policy analysis on high quality Pre-K."
  • $750,000 to the Moms Rising Education Fund to "educate the parents, media, and leaders of America about the importance of every child having access to affordable, high quality early learning opportunities."




It is worth noting that many recipients have been awarded multiple grants over the years.  Thrive By Five (now Thrive Washington, having merged with the Foundation for Early Learning) is an important past recipient of Gates funding, and received multiple grants to actualize the Washington State Early Learning Program, a 10-year project that was set in motion in 2002. Similarly, the Washington Department of Early Learning mentined above has received at least 10 foundation grants totaling millions of dollars since 2007.

Interested grantseekers should review the foundation's databases of past grant recipients (search for "early education") and current grant opportunities, as well as its useful How We Work and Early Learning overview pages. A major focus for all of Gates' education-related grants is supporting work in low- to moderate-income communities to provide a better-quality education for children, with the underlying current of closing the education achievement gap in those communities. The foundation also notes, without mentioning specifics, that some funding areas do "not accept unsolicited proposals."


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