Heising-Simons Foundation: Grants for Early Childhood Education

OVERVIEW: This funder's philosophy is that early childhood education now represents preventive measures to better ensure educational success from elementary school through college. Heising-Simons limits direct services funding to its home area of northern California, but it seeks to affect the research and policy dialogue on a state and national scale.

IP TAKE: Research, evaluation, and policy advocacy on early childhood education are the avenues by which nonprofits and institutions of higher education can gain the support of this funder.  Unsolicited proposals are not accepted, but organizations that do gain this funder's support stand the chance of repeat grants 

KEY INFO: The Heising-Simons Foundation sees early childhood instruction as the education equivalent of preventive medicine. Want children with sufficient preparation for STEM careers? Make sure they receive early math instruction in grades K-3. Want college-ready kids? Make sure they're kindergarten-ready.

Prevention, rather than intervention, is the theme here. This funder believes prevention best occurs by focusing on the formative years from birth through age eight.

Heising-Simons is a young foundation, established in 2007 by the husband-and-wife team of Mark Heising and Liz Simons, who serve as trustees. It is headquartered in Los Altos Hills, California.  

The foundation's early childhood education grantmaking has three primary interests: transition to kindergarten, early math, and family engagement, as well as a general "other interests" category. Activities funded within the foundation's areas of interest include research and evaluation, policy development, advocacy, teacher preparation and development, and direct services. Funding for direct services, however, occurs within geographic limits. An organization must serve Santa Clara or San Mateo county to receive such funding. Organizations across the state and nation can apply for funding for other activities, such as research, evaluation, and policy advocacy. 

Liz Simons writes that the foundation is interested in research-based solutions in education and in other areas it funds, including science, the environment, and public policy. A look at its past grants indicates that Heising-Simons funds projects related to the development of early childhood curriculum, implementation of ECE initiatives, professional development for K-3 teachers, and evaluation of various efforts. Early education grants in recent years have ranged from $10,000 to nearly $3,500,000 in size.  A sampling of recent grants, which can be searched in the foundation's database, have included:

  • Early Math: approximately $700,000 for the Education Development Center, Inc., "to investigate whether the addition of a family engagement component to an existing preschool mathematics intervention for low-income children will enhance children’s math learning outcomes"
  • Early Math: more than $6.5 million total in multiple grants over recent years to the Robin Hood Foundation for the development, evaluation, and implementation of a Pre-K "math-focused intervention and professional development program," as well as the "implementation and evaluation of a kindergarden extracurricular math program to secure learning gains" from the original program 
  • Family Engagement: $200,000 to support the "national early learning program" of the MomsRising Fund
  • Transition to Kindergarten: approximately $2.3 million for the American Institutes for Research in the Behavioral Sciences, supporting "the second year of a three-year evaluation of California’s transitional kindergarten program"
  • Other Interests: $1 million for the Center for the Next Generation, supporting the "Too Small to Fail early childhood public education campaign"

Children's successful transition is a foundation priority, reflected in its support for Stretch to Kindergarten, a spring-summer program of the Family Engagement Institute at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills that helps children without preschool exposure get ready for kindergarten. 

Heising-Simons occasionally has a limited number of grants available for projects that address new interests of the foundation or that support college enrollment efforts by immigrant and disadvantaged youth. As with other education grants, however, direct service funding is limited to Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in California, while research, evaluation, and policy initiative funding is available more broadly. The foundation also offers support for organizations that are of personal interest or significance to individual board members, though these are limited to the counties of San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo. 

Heising-Simons does not accept unsolicited proposals or formal letters of inquiry, which can be a large barrier for new nonprofits or organizations that have not been funded in the past by the foundation. However, the funder's door is open to general inquiries and introductions.

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