In the past, J.B. Pritzker’s early childhood giving has had a dual focus: spreading the word and delivering services. Among other things, Pritzker's taken a strong interest in thought leadership in the early childhood development field and, as we've reported, this Chicago billionaire has emerged as a major player in efforts to change policy at the national level.
It's hard to think of another mega-giver who has embraced early childhood to the same degree that Pritzker has.
- Big Money, Small Kids: A Billionaire Steps Up Yet Again for Early Childhood
- The Billionaire Urging Philanthropy to Make Early Education a (Much) Bigger Priority
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Foundation has strengthened its capacity to advance early childhood work. It recently announced that Rachel Schumacher is stepping in as the new director of the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, which is a portfolio of national investments.
So, who is Schumacher, and what does she bring to Pritzker’s early childhood crusade?
Well, to start, she spent the last couple of years as the director of the office of child care in the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Not only does she have experience in the field of early childhood education, but specifically child care policy and research. Schumacher’s other experience includes four years as an early education policy consultant, 11 years as a senior fellow for child care and early education at the Center for Law and Social Policy, and a year as a policy analyst for the Children’s Defense Fund of Greater Cincinnati.
Pritzker has asserted that philanthropy has long overlooked early childhood education, and he’s been slowly but surely building up a case about how philanthropic dollars can make a big difference. He frequently uses the venture capital business argument when discussing the topic and the excellent return on investment that doesn’t get much better than early childhood education. Going beyond traditional grantmaking, one of Pritzker's ongoing goals has been to persuade K-12 funders to support early childhood education to solve some of the persistent K-12 problems before they start.
This is an exciting time for philanthropy focused on early childhood learning, as we've been reporting. The politics of this issue have changed, with the cause increasingly drawing bipartisan support. And new openings are emerging to move a policy agenda, especially at the state level. Just the other day, we looked at what the Kellogg Foundation is doing in Mississippi to advance pre-K education, and also noted the foundation's recent grant to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation to promote early childhood education in the states. Meanwhile, this field continues to get a boost from greater understanding of brain development in the first few years of life, and how critical it is to intervene early to ensure the success of America's youngest children.
On another note, we should mention that early childhood education isn’t the only topic of interest for the Pritzker foundation, right now. The funder also recently hired a new director for its community health initiative, which is a Chicago-focused initiative, unlike the more national early childhood education one. The Pritzker Foundation’s president, Janet Froetscher, hasn’t even been in her position for a full year yet, so this is all quite a bit of change in a short amount of time. Clearly, this is a funder on move.
Oh, and one other thing: J.B. Pritzker, in case you haven't heard, is actively exploring a run for Governor of Illinois in 2018.