Early Childhood Education Is Also Moving in Philly, With Some Funding Muscle

In the past few years, early childhood education has landed squarely on the national agenda. It's championed by President Obama, andas we've reporteda number of major funders have pushed hard to move this issue inside the Beltway. Additionally, we've looked at how the Gates Foundation is gearing up to go big on early childhood, which could be a hugely significant development in the field. (Even if one critic did snipe to us that given Gates' uneven record on K-12, "it should just stick with vaccinations.")


But the biggest action on early childhood education among funders is really at the local level, and we've been tracking the efforts of different funders in various cities. 

Philadelphia is one place where the ball is moving forward, and the William Penn Foundation has played a key role. It's has been slowly but surely ramping up its early childhood education investments, and just made a huge splash on the local scene worth talking about.

The pivotal Philly funder recently announced a new $15 million commitment to the Fund for Quality, which is a local initiative aimed at improving early childhood education facilities for low-income families in Philadelphia. This fund is a big project for the William Penn Foundation, which started it with an initial $4.6 million grant in 2014. It’s operated by the Reinvestment Fund and the Public Health Management Corporation, and it’s gotten a lot of support from Mayor Kenney’s administration, too. Which goes to a broader point worth flagging: ECE is a perfect example of an issue where public-private partnerships can yield big dividends.

“The Fund for Quality has made a significant impact on expanding quality pre-K throughout Philadelphia. This investment helps providers enhance facilities, enroll more students, and grow businesses,” Mayor Kenney said in a press release. “My administration is committed to increasing quality pre-K opportunities, but we certainly cannot do it alone. Business and philanthropic participation is critical to the success of this effort so I’m extremely grateful for William Penn Foundation’s ongoing leadership and investment in early childhood education.”

One research study after another has shown that kids who receive high-quality pre-K education do better in school and later in life. So betting big on pre-K improvements isn’t that big of a gamble. But as they say, the devil is in the details, especially when it comes to ensuring the high quality needed to make ECE programs successful. 

If you’ve been following Penn, you’ll know that this massive grant wasn’t out of left field. But if you haven’t been keeping up with the funder’s growing passion for early childhood education, now would be an ideal time to catch up on some relevant reading.


Dr. Janet Hass, chair of the board of directors at the William Penn Foundation made the following statement:

We owe every child the opportunity for a strong start. Over the last two years the Fund for Quality added 630 new, high-quality spots in early childhood education, and 90 percent of those spots are occupied by children of low-income families. Every year new children will get to sit in those seats, meaning that over time this will change the trajectory of thousands of young lives.

For Penn, the bigger goal in all of this is universal pre-K, and Philadelphia is inching closer to that goal. By January 2021, the fund’s leaders expect to add 1,500 more early childhood education seats in high-quality institutions to overcome crowded conditions and to make room for low-income families to get in on these advancements.