A recurring theme at Inside Philanthropy is that funders should always look for ways to mobilize investments by government or business to advance their causes. After all, those sectors have far greater resources than philanthropy and, in some cases, are the only actors in society that can solve big problems.
Early childhood education is a perfect example. If government doesn't embrace this priority, it will never happen on the scale needed to make a difference. Which is why the smart ECE funders are sinking serious money into an advocacy push.
During his 2015 State of the Union message, President Obama said that early childhood education and child care would be key priorities of his second term, calling for a series of programs, including universal child care. Such programs will be a hard sell among the Republican-led Congress, but the president will be able to count on support from the First Five Years Fund, whose efforts to advocate for early childhood policies just received a big boost from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
The First Five Years Fund (FFYF), based in the nation's capital, advocates for federal policies and investments in early childhood education initiatives that target children from birth to age five. FFYF supplies research and information to policymakers, advocacy organizations, and the public. Kellogg is one of FFYF's biggest supporters, having played a role in the organization's formation in 2007. Other prominent supporters of FFYF include the Gates Foundation and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.
Recently, Kellogg awarded FFYF a $1.65 million grant to support national efforts aimed at driving federal investments that support quality early childhood education programs. The timing of this grant is worth noting, as it commenced at the beginning of 2015 and ends at the end of 2016, shortly before the end of President Obama's final term in office.
The $1.65 million FFYF received from Kellogg will help finance an uphill fight for greater support for early learning on Capitol Hill. Many congressional leaders have expressed skepticism about additional spending on programs they regard as unproven, despite years of research demonstrating that quality early childhood education carries lifelong benefits affecting high school graduation, postsecondary enrollment and completion, and career success. In addition, some congressional Republicans see expanded child care and ECE as undermining stay-at-home parents.
On the other hand, this issue is not DOA among the GOP like other bids to expand government might be. Many Republicans and conservatives are anxious to show that they care about the struggles of lower income Americans and that they have a plan to expand opportunity for all. Kellogg is attuned to that opening, which helps explain why it made a two-year grant to the American Enterprise Institute last year to work on pre-K. While AEI is a right-of-center think tank, it's also been on the vanguard of efforts to promote greater equity in ways conservatives can embrace.
Overall, Kellogg's latest commitment to FFYF demonstrates a continuation of what we saw in 2014, with funders and national policymakers joining forces behind greater support for and access to early learning opportunities. The president's Invest in US initiative, unveiled in 2014 and headed by FFYF, blended federal and philanthropic funds aimed at EC programs. With this grant, Kellogg has shown further commitment to advocacy for policies and programs of the type advocated by the president in his State of the Union message.