April 22, 2019

Foundations Urged to Unite to Reinforce Early Learning

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Gregg Behr and Kristen Burns, both Executives of the Grable Foundation, discuss the topic of early childhood programs and explore the increasing general awareness of the important role of early learning experiences.


Data has repeatedly shown that “kids who participate in high-quality programs develop a greater capacity for cognitive and social-emotional skills like collaboration, communication, and perseverance — skills that improve school attendance, grades, and more.”

However, with the current levels of early childhood funding, only “two-thirds of American four-year-olds are enrolled in early learning programs…with less than a quarter of those programs being considered high-quality.” Because of this, advocates are calling for grantmakers and foundations to step up, as many have, to reinforce the positive impact of early childhood programs.

Toxic Stress and Trauma

In the article, Behr and Burns discuss the negative impacts of sustained exposure to toxic stress and trauma. Because of this, disadvantaged kids may be taking the brunt of the impact with greater risks for developmental delays linked to problems such as “poor academic achievement, substance abuse, and diabetes.” However, studies show that even if a young child is exposed to toxic stress and trauma, many of the negative impacts may be reduced if the child has access to a positive, safe, and supportive early learning experience. By advocating for increased investments in early childhood, foundations are advocating to support the healthy development and success of our nation’s children.

Current Funding

Behr and Burns state that “among the 91 grantmakers surveyed, one-third reported funding [efforts related to early childhood programs]. Of those, well over half anticipated increased support in the next two years.” However, despite wide and growing support for the cause, early childhood spending gets just four percent of foundation dollars. Because of this, advocates are calling on grantmakers and foundations to unite in an effort to support the benefits of early childhood programs. While philanthropy cannot take the place of adequate government funding, any supportive effort today “may lead to better public policy tomorrow.”

Learn More

To read the full article, including clear examples highlighted in the Grantmakers for Education report, visit the website.

Gregg Behr is executive director of the Grable Foundation and chairman of Grantmakers for Education. Kristen Burns is associate director of Grable.