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Lisa Klein, guest editor for this issue of The Evaluation Exchange, reveals how private foundations are spending their money in the emerging arena of universal preschool.

Over the past 2 years there has been a significant trend toward extending what we know to be formal education to include serving 3- and 4-year-olds. Both the public and private sectors have hopped on the universal prekindergarten (UPK) bandwagon. Several states, including Georgia, New York, Florida, and selected school districts in New Jersey, have launched efforts to provide UPK. In addition, some private funders are targeting a greater portion of funds to UPK.

Private Foundations' Changing Early Childhood Strategies
Private foundations have experienced a shift in their funding patterns related to early childhood. The Pew Charitable Trusts has made a significant investment in early childhood education at a time when some funders have decreased spending in this area. Sue Urahn, special projects director at Pew, explains, “There was a growing sense that [the board] could have a bigger impact by moving the education strategy to the earlier years.” This is echoed by Ellen Alberding, president of the Joyce Foundation. Both refer to the triumvirate of impact studies from Perry Preschool, Abecedarian, and the Chicago Child Parent Center Program (see the box) as very compelling for getting boards to support UPK.

After suffering a significant loss in assets and with a renewed emphasis on having an impact, the Packard Foundation has recently targeted its grantmaking strategy for early childhood on UPK in California. Lois Salisbury, Packard's director of children, families, and communities, explains, “It is important to lead where there is strength. Right now that is with universal preschool.”

Foundation Investments in UPK
Of the private foundations investing in UPK, each has a unique emphasis. The Pew Charitable Trusts approved an initiative in September 2001, shifting resources in the education area from K–12 and higher education to preschool. Urahn, who directs policy initiatives in the education program, reports, “Our goal is very focused—to increase access to universal, high quality preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds.”

Local strategy is state-based and funds New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Illinois to advance their work in UPK. It is likely that a second tier of states will be given grants for planning and polling activities.

Related Resource

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) was established at Rutgers University with a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts. NIEER supports early childhood initiatives by making available objective, nonpartisan information based on research. NIEER targets journalists, researchers, and educators as well as policymakers at the state and national levels. The institute is part of a strategy to ensure that every 3- and 4-year-old has access to high quality early education.

Recently, NIEER completed a cost-benefit analysis of three longitudinal research projects. The three—Abecedarian, Perry Preschool, and the Chicago Child Parent Center Program—are collectively known as the “trio of early childhood studies.”All three have data that show that high quality early childhood intervention has positive effects on children and that the impacts last over time. Savings were found in greater school success and higher earnings by both the children and their mothers. For more information on these projects visit

National strategy has three key components:

  1. Building a research base. The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) was established to ask the right questions, get timely answers, and ultimately make policymakers aware of the issue through user-friendly communications.
  2. Advocacy to ensure that knowledge is used. The Trust for Early Education was established in Washington, D.C., to be the voice for preschool nationally as well as in select states that have been targeted for intensive work.
  3. Building a constituency. In an attempt to build a new constituency to speak about preschool, Pew supports Fight Crime Invest in Kids to reach the law-enforcement community; the Committee for Economic Development for engaging the business community; and the Council of Chief State School Officers to reach the K–12 education community.

The Foundation for Child Development has taken a leadership role in the research and dissemination of information in support of UPK. The Foundation served in an advisory role in the beginning of the Pew initiative, co-funds the Trust for Early Education, and is now exploring a collaborative line of work around UPK assessment.

In March 2003 the Packard Foundation board approved a change in funding for the children, families, and community area. Investments largely support the development of UPK in California. Preschool for All is a 10-year effort, its goal to make voluntary preschool available for all 3- and 4-year-olds in the state. The first part of their three-part strategy funds 15–20 initiatives to build leadership and mobilize a broad constituency supporting preschool in California. The second part supports policy development and advocacy activities for preschool. The third flagship part of the strategy is a large-scale demonstration project aiming to increase the supply and quality of preschool programs in select California counties.

The house is being built. We want to put up the walls. We're doing this by direct and indirect grants in support of universal preschool.

– Wanda Newell,
McCormick Tribune Foundation

The Joyce Foundation has made a recent investment supporting UPK in three states: Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The goal is to integrate early care and education by supporting the delivery of UPK in local schools and community-based child care settings. Alberding explains, “We are trying to figure out how you do universal preschool on the ground in ways that reach the most disadvantaged kids.” The strategy targets enhancing quality, increasing capacity, and adopting standards to close the achievement gap. Funding for preschool is leveraged with partners including the Pew Trusts and the McCormick Tribune Foundation.

The McCormick Tribune Foundation directly supports advocacy for UPK in Illinois. Investments that indirectly support UPK focus on the quality of programs implementing UPK and professional development. A program called Centers for Excellence funds capacity building for not-for-profit top- and mid-level executives to provide quality child care. Investment in community colleges is aimed at ensuring that teachers are properly trained early in their careers to work with young children.

The Schumann Fund for New Jersey supports pilot demonstrations in selected school districts that are implementing the ruling of the court case mandating high quality preschool in the poorest urban districts. [An annotated list of papers pertaining to this case is listed in the New & Noteworthy section of this issue. —Ed.] The fund also supports communication efforts and advocacy to extend UPK to other children across the state.

As states adopt Pre-K programs it becomes increasingly important to know more about the quality of experiences in classrooms.

– Fasaha Traylor,
Foundation for Child Development

The Role of Research and Evaluation
Aggregate polling data in the last few years show greater acceptance by the public for preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. Pew conducts their own polling with every state that they consider working with to determine the level of readiness for UPK. All states funded by Pew track their media coverage and some basic output data, such as the amount of coverage, the number of hits on their websites, and the number of events in which spokespersons address UPK. Pew also created a logic model¹ with the end goals of (1) national policies that support UPK and (2) high quality UPK in 4–6 states for all 3- and 4-year-olds by 2008.

Indicators of climate change are being assessed as well. Among these indicators are the number of hits on pre-K sections of grantee websites, the number of stories on high quality UPK in the media, the number of bills introduced and hearings held on UPK, and a change in the number of unusual stakeholders and key policymakers that publicly support UPK.

Through NIEER a tracking yearbook is being produced annually. The first was published in February and shows where all 50 states are in regard to policies related to UPK. An external impact evaluation will be conducted when the initiative is mature.

The Packard Foundation held a meeting last summer to discuss evaluation. Harvard Family Research Project, in coordination with SRI International, is participating in an extended evaluation-planning phase. The board is interested in evaluation for two purposes: to serve as a learning tool for grantees and, later, to facilitate a focus on accountability for results.

Barbara Reisman, executive director of the Schumann Fund, describes evaluation efforts to determine how effectively the court mandate mentioned above is being carried out: “We are looking at some child outcomes associated with the pilots to see if the preschools are making a difference.”

The Question of Sustainability
Private foundations have joined together to leverage funding in support of UPK. As Urahn says, “It's ridiculous to think that Pew can do it all by itself.” The Packard Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Schumann Fund for New Jersey, and the McCormick Tribune Foundation are collaborating with the Pew Charitable Trusts to establish a broader, more sustainable base of support for UPK.

Even with significant investment, universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds is not something private foundations alone can fund. Rather, they are attempting to leverage public support to make preschool part of the formal public education system. Strategies to achieve widespread, sustainable change include investing in a mix of programmatic, research, and advocacy efforts.

Pew operates under the philosophy that informing the development of good policy is necessary to effectively leverage change. Rather than conducting a demonstration project and trying to scale it, Pew relies on research, public education, and constituency development to influence policy and, therefore, leverage public support and investment. According to Urahn, “If the public sees a benefit from UPK and if we can show good results, then sustainability on the program level will take care of itself. Sustainability in the policy arena comes down to strong public support.”

¹ A logic model illustrates how the initiative's activities connect to the outcomes it is trying to achieve.

Lisa G. Klein, Principal, Hestia Advising

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