There is near-universal consensus that early-childhood education (ECE) programs can break cycles of poverty, serve as critical lifelines for working parents and lead to lasting upward mobility. Children who participate in these programs earn more money over their lifetimes, enjoy more stable long-term relationships, have stronger social and emotional skills, lead healthier lives, and are less likely to be incarcerated. The benefits these programs produce span multiple generations.
Recently, Shannon Rudisill, ECFC Executive Director and several ECFC members spoke with Inside Philanthropy about the fragile state of early care and education (ECE) programs, the likelihood that many will not survive the pandemic.
Early care and education do not receive much public investment compared to K-12 public education, and many teetered on the edge of survival even before the crisis. Weeks of closure have likely led to permanent closures for thousands of child care centers. As states reopen child care centers, many will remain on the brink of survival for months to come. With additional costs of sanitation, and decreased enrollment for reasons such as reduced numbers of children permitted in classrooms and mass unemployment shrinking the number of families able to pay for child care. Even among those who do have the means, the fear of contracting COVID-19 will be a major hurdle to overcome.
Funders are worried about the fate of programs for the very youngest learners and the poorly paid workers who care for and teach these children. “The public investment that we do have, like Head Start and pre-K, is skewed toward four-year-olds. The care that will be the hardest to bring back will be for children ages zero to three. We hardly have any public investment in that space. The population we expect to take care of these kids is paid poverty wages and frequently lacks health insurance,” says Shannon Rudisill. Child care advocates say drastic measures are necessary. Senate Democrats are proposing a $50 billion bailout for the child care industry. The CARES Act appropriated $3.5 billion for early care, but Rudisill says an estimated $9 billion a month is needed to sustain the sector. Rudisill adds, “Schools will be there. As much as there will be holes in state budgets, they will open back up, but that’s not necessarily true of the early care and education sector.”
In response to this crisis, foundations are getting creative, supporting grantees to assess the impact on families, provide immediate relief, pivot to virtual services and resources, and think about rebuilding a better ECEsystem. ECFC member work featured in the article includes: the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, and Imaginable Futures (formerly the Omidyar Network’s Education Initiative). The article also features ECFC member supported emergency funds established to sustain and improve child care including: Home Grown, a funders collaborative dedicated to quality and access to home-based child care, to catalyze the development of regional funds that provide direct financial support to in-home child care providers across the nation; and the Philadelphia Emergency Fund for Stabilization of Early Education, focused on children ages zero to five, the fund supports basic expenses such as payroll, rent and mortgage assistance, and supports centers that provide baby supplies and care for the children of essential workers.
ECFC is urging its members not to scale back their advocacy investments, especially regarding children who are in immigrant or mixed-status families. Many of those families were left out of federal aid programs, and foundations plan to push lawmakers to direct more funding for healthcare, disaster relief, and for outreach and case management services. Nearly a quarter of all young children in America are raised in such households.
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