Opinion
Early Childhood Opinion

Early Learning Challenge: Where are the Foundations?

By Sara Mead — June 21, 2011 1 min read

If I were a foundation that had invested significant funding in early childhood education over the past decade, I can tell you exactly what I’d be doing right now. I’d be offering grants to states to help them plan for and write their applications for the federal Early Learning Challenge competition under RTT.

During the original Race to the Top competition, the Gates Foundation famously made grants of up to $250,000 to states--originally just 15 states, then all of them--to support their work developing RTT plans and writing their applications. These funds, and how states used them, ultimately had significant impacts on both the quality of applications that were written and the winning pool of states.*

The Early Learning Challenge application is likely to be every bit as complicated as the original RTT application--perhaps even more so, given that states will have to coordinated across programs and funding streams operated by a variety of different state agencies. Drafting high-quality applications, particularly under the likely short time frame, is likely to require significant resources, beyond the early childhood and grant-writing capacity readily available in many states. But I have yet to hear of any of the big early childhood-focused foundations--which, remember, have poured huge amounts of money into early childhood advocacy over the past decade--making funds available to ensure that states are crafting smart, well-thought-out applications here. I’ve been asking around, and no one else I’ve talked to seems to be aware of anyone doing this (I have heard about some foundations providing lighter touch support/TA, but not funding for application writing). Now, it’s entirely possible that there is foundation funding coming together for this work, and I just haven’t heard about it. But if that’s not the case, then the early childhood oriented foundations are squandering a huge opportunity to shape policy and strategy at the state level here--not to mention how $500 million in federal funds will ultimately be spent.

*Disclosure: I helped to write an RTT application under a contract paid for with Gates funds.

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