The W.K. Kellogg Foundation will spend more than $43 million over the next five years to help better prepare thousands of young children for school at eight sites throughout the country.
As part of the foundation’s SPARK initiative—which stands for Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids—the grants will be used to help bring the early-childhood field and the K-12 system closer together so that children will have smoother transitions into school.
“We see the grantees as being connected to the state players that can help move this issue, and also connected to fairly grassroots organizations and parents,” said David Cournoyer, a spokesman for the Battle Creek, Mich.-based philanthropy. The money, he emphasized, is meant to act “like a glue to bring people together.”
Roughly $4 million at each site will be used for such activities as forming “transition councils” that include school officials, parents, and child-care providers, and helping kindergarten classrooms earn national accreditation. The remaining money will be used for technical help to the sites, for evaluations, and for communication efforts.
The eight grantees are: the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, in Miami; the Georgia Early Learning Initiative and the United Way of Greater Atlanta in Georgia; the Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture in Kapolei, Hawaii; the Children’s Defense Fund’s Black Community Crusade for Children in Jackson, Miss.; the New Mexico Community Foundation in Santa Fe; Smart Start and the North Carolina Partnership for Children in Raleigh; the Sisters of Charity Foundation in Canton, Ohio; and the National Black Child Development Institute in Washington.
While the foundation did not seek out applicants in states that are struggling to maintain what they have been spending on school readiness efforts, the new aid comes as economic conditions are leading to cutbacks in such programs.
A survey recently conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research, based in New Brunswick, N.J., found that, so far, in eight states that had passed their fiscal 2004 budgets, funding for state preschool programs had been reduced. At the time the survey was taken, only two states—Louisiana and New Jersey—had increased their spending on early-childhood education. Spending in eight other states remained flat.
“K-12 has some constitutional protection and some institutional structure [to protect its budget], but preschool is just out there,” said W. Steven Barnett, the director of the institute, which is supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
That Philadelphia-based foundation has also committed significant funds to improving services in early-childhood education.
The bright side, Mr. Barnett noted, is that no state has completely eliminated its preschool program, which shows that there is still “a fairly high degree of public support and interest.”
He added that even if states can’t expand programs now, it’s wise to “put money into planning and laying the groundwork.”
In fact, Kellogg officials said some of its grantees are in states that, so far, have not put a lot of money into preschool programs.
The foundation, Mr. Cournoyer said, is “interested in targeting some of those communities.”