Establishment of Foundation for Early Learning
The Foundation for Early Learning grew from the Governor’s Commission on Early Learning and was started with a generous $10 million start-up gift from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. On April 10, 2000, co-chairs Mona Lee Locke and Melinda French Gates, and the members of the Governor’s Commission on Early Learning incorporated the Washington Early Learning Foundation, later renamed Foundation for Early Learning. Mona Locke became the founding board chair and the founding board was comprised of Kathryn Barnard of the University of Washington, Jim Sinegal, CEO of Costco Wholesale, and Jim Dagnon Senior Vice President of People for The Boeing Company. Robin Zukoski provided unpaid staff support to the Foundation until Jeanne Anderson was hired as the first executive director in October 2000.
One stipulation of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's gift was that the funds had to be “spent down” in a period of five years. The Foundation was successful in meeting this requirement and was also successful in raising sufficient funds to continue operations and to support our grantmaking. Since its inception, the Foundation has raised an additional $6.6 million from the public to support early learning in Washington.
The mission of the newly formed foundation was to ensure that every child in Washington state would enter school prepared to be successful. Foundation for Early Learning continues to support early learning and school-readiness across Washington state.
Four of the issues that the Foundation set out to address are:
- Improving child care provider compensation
- Increasing public awareness of the importance of early learning
- Improving the quality of care provided by child care centers and family home care centers
- Creating community-based early learning systems
Child Care Provider Education and Compensation
The Foundation for Early Learning addressed the issue of low wages for child care workers right from the very beginning. In June 2000, the Foundation awarded its first grant of $637,000 (additional $300,000 grant was awarded in 2003 and $250,000 grant was awarded in 2006) to the Child Care Resource and Referral Network to bring the TEACH program to our state from North Carolina. TEACH (Teacher Education and Compensation Helps) is a scholarship program for child care providers wishing to get their Associate of Art's degree and/or their Early Childhood Learning Certificate. TEACH Washington has now become Washington Scholars and is supported by a number of local, state and federal funding sources. To date, the Foundation’s support has enabled 83 child care professionals in Washington state to complete their Associate of Art's degree, two have received their Bachelor of Art's degree and 177 have received Early Childhood Learning certificates.
In its second year, the Foundation for Early Learning began providing sponsorships to organizations for fund-raising events, workshops and conferences supporting early learning. As of June 30, 2012, the Foundation has given out over $315,000 in sponsorships to 200 community events and gatherings across the state.
Prior to the Foundation for Early Learning being formed, the Commission worked with a marketing firm to create a statewide public engagement campaign. It was important to the founding board members that the Foundation continue its efforts to increase the public’s awareness of the importance of the first five years of life. To that end, public engagement and awareness became a cornerstone of the Foundation’s activities. The Foundation invested $500,000 in the first statewide public awareness engagement campaign highlighting the importance of early learning in Washington State in the fall of 2000.
Building Capacity of Local Communities
The Foundation for Early Learning's grantmaking began in 2001 with a focus on going “narrowly and deeply” into a few communities across the state. The idea was to give a community a small planning grant so that the community members could come together and write a plan of implementation. Once the plan was completed, the community was given a larger implementation grant to help them realize their vision.
From the beginning, the Foundation asked communities to come together to address the needs of their youngest children. The Foundation believes that an initiative/project provides better results when more stakeholders are involved. Hence, among the grant making requirements, a key criteria that the Foundation adopted is that the grant application reflects evidence of collaboration among the many different organizations in a community.
Clark County became one of the first communities the Foundation funded. Ten organizations in Clark County formed a coalition called Project SELF (Supporting Early Learning and Families). Clark County has gone on to become a major success story for Foundation for Early Learning. It has 25 members in SELF and a designated fund, The Clark County Early Learning Fund, honoring Rick and Sarah Melching (CCELF), which annually raises and awards funds to local organizations. Within three years, CCELF awarded a total of $778K to support early learning in Clark County. In addition to the investments made by the Foundation, Project SELF also received a federal Early Learning Opportunity grant of $850,000, and ongoing support from several large foundations and United Way of Clark County. The early support from the Foundation proved to be pivotal to the success of early learning in Clark County.
In 2002, the Foundation, serving as the fiscal sponsor for an eight-member coalition in King County, submitted a request for a federal Early Learning Opportunity Act (ELOA) grant to the Department of Health and Human Services. The projects funded by this grant request would link Family, Friend and Neighbor (FFN) providers and support a school-readiness campaign in King County. This proposal was developed by Project Lift Off (now SOAR of United Way), along with the Foundation and a number of other organizations. The request was successful and $916,000 in federal dollars for early learning came to King County.
One of the products of this collaborative effort was the development and distribution of Getting School Ready!® booklets. When the King County coalition disbanded, the Foundation inherited the Getting School Ready!® products and much of what came out of the coalition. The Foundation has been updating and distributing the Getting School Ready!® booklets since 2002, and are now available in eight different languages with over 580,000 copies distributed to date. Our ninth language, Tagalog, was released in PDF form online. We have also added an audio (mp3) version in Oromo. Requests for the booklets come from across the country and even from Canada. The booklets are also sent out in Washington state’s “Child Profile” pamphlets that go to every new parent in the state. The Foundation also launched a companion website, www.gettingschoolready.org, which features the same great information from the booklet, along with additional resources, lists, and advice on how to prepare children for school. The Boeing Company has generously printed the booklets for the Foundation.
The Foundation birthed the Funders Affinity Group for Early Learning. When Foundation for Early Learning joined Philanthropy Northwest (PNW) in 2001, there was no affinity group of funders of early learning. Jeanne Anderson went to the executive director of PNW to see if the organization could start one. PNW sent an email to its members telling them of the first meeting of the Funders Affinity Group for Early Learning, now known as the Early Childhood Learning Affinity Group (ECLAG). The response was very encouraging---17 funders in Washington State attended the first meeting. The Foundation for Early Learning staffed the affinity group for three years until it was incorporated into PNW. Jeanne Anderson chaired the group for eight years; Vaughnetta J. Barton has co-chaired the group since 2008. The affinity group enjoys a strong core membership and has been fortunate to have well known speakers in early learning address the group over the years. As early learning expands, ECLAG membership has grown to include funders from across the Pacific Northwest.
The board of directors of the Foundation for Early Learning embraced the founders’ belief that public awareness of the importance of early learning should be a major part of the work of the Foundation for Early Learning. In order to address this mandate, the Foundation for Early Learning staff understood that it was necessary to bring in partners so that a public awareness campaign would have the financial support and broad commitment of many funders over a number of years.
Jeanne Anderson turned to the members of the Funders Affinity Group for Early Learning and asked if any of them would like to explore the possibility of a collaborative venture focused on a public awareness and engagement campaign. Five foundations expressed interest and began researching what was already happening on a local, state and national level. This research led to the creation of the Early Care and Education Coalition (EC2 ).
Early Care and Education Coalition (EC2)
The Foundation for Early Learning took the leadership role in the formation of EC2 when the board of directors voted in October 2003 to approve a $50,000 grant to provide start-up funds. The Foundation for Early Learning took on the role of fiscal sponsor for EC2 when Kirlin Foundation and Comprehensive Health Education Foundation (CHEF) provided funds a month later.
By January 2004, EC2 had a contracted staff person, three funders and 10 members. The Foundation for Early Learning headed up the fund raising efforts to bring in both public and private funders. Garrison Kurtz, Program Director of Foundation for Early Learning, was pivotal in bringing in the public funders: Head Start Collaboration Office and Washington State Department of Child Care and Early Learning (now a part of the Department of Early Learning). Jeanne Anderson brought in private funders: The Boeing Corporate Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Social Venture Partners, United Way of King County, Committee for Children, and a number of others.
By the end of 2004, EC2 was a strong public/private partnership with 20 funding members run by a steering committee. Most importantly, EC2 became the statewide coordinator of Born Learning, a national early learning public awareness campaign developed by Civitas and the Ad Council in cooperation with United Way of America.
The Born Learning campaign was a fully developed and easily adaptable public awareness campaign that was being used throughout the country to promote the importance of the first five years of life. As the statewide coordinator of Born Learning, EC2 had the advantage of working with materials, advertisements and public service announcements that had been vetted and approved by a number of experts in the field.
One of the public funders of EC2, the Department of Child Care and Early Learning (DCCEL), provided $300,000 to promote Born Learning in 10 communities across the state. These communities received $30,000 incentive grants to hold fairs and activities promoting early learning. At its peak, the Born Learning campaign was a statewide initiative operating in every county in Washington state.
In 2005, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation approached the Foundation for Early Learning to begin discussions about an early learning public/private partnership. Shortly afterwards, the Talaris Institute was also brought into the discussions. The Gates Foundation had a vision of bringing the Educare model of high quality child care to Washington state and the three organizations at the table spent several months discussing how this could be implemented.
The Foundation for Early Learning suggested that there was already a public/private partnership in place that had all the organizations that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wanted to have involved. The Gates Foundation and Talaris agreed that transforming EC2 into the new public/private partnership (later called Thrive by Five Washington) was a good idea and negotiations began with the Steering Committee (funders) of EC2 and the Board of Directors of Foundation for Early Learning.
The funders met with the Gates Foundation and agreed to let EC2 become Thrive by Five Washington provided that the Born Learning campaign is continued and that the contracted staff be allowed to work until the end of their contracts. The Gates Foundation agreed to these conditions. Following a vote by the Foundation's board of directors, EC2 was transformed into the new organization, Thrive by Five Washington.
Since no staff had been hired when the transfer occurred in May 2006, the Foundation for Early Learning acted as the fiscal sponsor of Thrive By Five until early 2007. In addition to the funds from EC2, the Foundation for Early Learning gave a $100,000 grant to Thrive by Five. Mona Locke served on Thrive by Five’s board of directors. Jeanne Anderson served on its advisory council until July 2008.
Labels for Education
While the work was going on with EC2 another important partnership was being forged. In 2004, Sheri Flies, a board member of the Foundation who worked for Costco Wholesale, asked the Foundation if we would be interested in distributing the Campbell’s Soup Labels for Education that Costco received. Sheri’s idea was that the labels could go to licensed child care centers and licensed home care centers across the state. The labels would enable the child care provider to “purchase” books, playground equipment, office materials and a variety of other items essential to these centers. Since Costco is such a large customer of Campbell’s Soup, the labels we received numbered in the millions. In total, 10.3 million Labels for Education credits with a value of $230,000 were distributed to 233 centers in all 39 counties in Washington state.
Kids Matter: Improving Outcomes for Children in Washington State
In 2005, the Foundation partnered with Washington BUILD Initiative, Washington State Department of Health/Office of Maternal Child Health, Head State - State Collaboration Office, Organizational Research Services, and Dr. Jill Sells, M.D., to develop Kids Matter. Kids Matter is a collaborative and comprehensive framework for building the early childhood system in Washington state in order to improve outcomes for children. It identifies specific achievable outcomes within four goal areas such as: a) access to health insurance and medical homes; b) mental health and social emotional development; c) early care and education/child care; and d) parenting information and support. The Foundation printed and distributed Kids Matter to colleagues, grantees and policymakers. Kids Matter has been a very successful undertaking. According to a survey respondent, “The success of the early childhood systems, and Kids Matter, has elevated early childhood issues to a much higher level in state government.” Today, Kids Matter is used as a framework to guide our grantees' work.
Strategic Shift: Focus on Community Coalition
The early learning movement in Washington state has been very successful. Since the formation of the Foundation, more players are now involved. Governor Gregoire created a cabinet level Department of Early Learning; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other major foundations in the state funded the creation of Thrive by Five Washington; and United Ways across Washington have selected early learning as an issue to address. Chambers of Commerce, businesses and foundations have become aware of the importance of the first five years of life and have become involved in advancing early learning in Washington state.
At a board retreat in October 2006, Foundation for Early Learning's board voted to approve a new strategy that would establish four progressive funding stages for community coalitions. The Foundation’s Getting School Ready!® statewide funding strategy was developed in the intervening months, and announced at the Foundation’s annual leadership luncheon in March 2007. This strategy has proven to be tremendously successful and popular among grantees.
As of June 30, 2009, the Foundation has invested in all 39 of Washington’s 39 counties. We are now focused on supporting under-served, overlooked and under-represented communities.
In addition to providing funds to community coalitions, the Foundation provides technical assistance in a variety of ways. Fund-raising, fiscal sponsorship, organizational development, internet communications and teleconferencing are all part of the technical assistance given to the community coalition network. The Foundation continues to host community members across the state via our monthly Early Learning Community Coalition Network Call, which was launched in 2005. The Foundation also hosts, in collaboration with other grantmakers, a variety of workshops and trainings held throughout the year.
Early Learning Public Library Partnership
In 2007, the public libraries of Washington state got together to discuss how they could have a stronger voice and presence in early learning. Although libraries have been providing early learning services to communities for many years, they were often left out of the discussions occurring among other organizations in the state. In order to remedy this problem, 21 libraries and library systems across the state came together to form a coalition. Each of the members contributed funds to launch the Early Learning Public Library Partnership. The first item of business was to find an early learning partner who would help them “get a seat at the table”. They turned to Foundation for Early Learning for this assistance.
Today, the Early Learning Public Library Partnership includes 26 members. The Foundation has dedicated staff who devote time to raising awareness about the pivotal role libraries play in early learning, and represent libraries at crucial early learning meetings across Washington. Because of this work, libraries are now being recognized as vital members of any discussion that involves the education and care of the youngest children in Washington state and are represented on various early education councils.
The Foundation Foundation for Early Learning provides the vehicle for early learning stakeholders to connect through the leadership luncheons held in King, Clark, Thurston and Walla Walla Counties. The successful annual events attract people in the field of early learning and those who want to get involved. To date, the seven leadership luncheons held by the Foundation in King County have resulted in over $1.8 million raised with an average of 550 guests. The three leadership luncheons held in Clark County have raised $330K with an average of 300 guests. Past speakers have included former Gov. Jim Hunt, of North Carolina; David Lawrence, former publisher of the Miami Herald; William Bell, President and CEO of Casey Family Programs; and the presidents of Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), Washington State University, and University of Washington. In celebration of our 10th anniversary, we hosted a moderated panel discussion followed by a post-luncheon discussion. In 2011, Rob Glaser, of RealNetworks attracted the business sector to early learning; in 2012 KUOW Presents' executive producer, Megan Sukys interviewed three of our grantees, from across Washington State, highlighting the difference the Foundation for Early Learning has made in the lives of children.
Mona Locke, the founder of the Foundation for Early Learning, served as the chair of the board of directors for six years. Marleen Alhadeff became the second chair of the Foundation for Early Learning and served one year until July 2008. Following this, Vijay Vashee and Jim McCarthy served consecutive, one year terms. Clyde Walker chaired the board of directors for 18 months, turning his chairmanship over to Don Stark in January 2012, as the Foundation for Early Learning launched its strategic planning process.
From 2000 through 2008, Jeanne Anderson served as executive director. Her title is now Founding Executive Director. Vaughnetta J. Barton was named as the new executive director and began in September 2008.
The future of Foundation for Early Learning remains bright. A strong and committed board, a knowledgeable and professional staff, long-time supporters and volunteers, and a history of success all bode well for the Foundation for Early Learning.