In Gates Move, Another Sign of Rising Funder Interest in Early Childhood Education

The world’s largest philanthropic organization has always been involved in early childhood education funding, but it has confined most of that activity to its home state of Washington. Now it looks as if the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is ready to make more of a national footprint in this area, which is good news for EC organizations and advocates.

In a recent interview in the New York Times, Bill and Melinda Gates reflected on their past history as funders. They highlighted success in the areas of global health and child mortality, but also expressing disappointment that similar successes have not occurred in education, a centerpiece of the funder’s U.S. program. Despite hundreds of millions poured into various K-12 initiatives aimed at teacher effectiveness, college readiness, and of course, the Common Core State Standards, the Gateses conceded to Times columnist Nicolas Kristof that there have been no dramatic changes.

Despite this, however, the Gateses say they remain committed to improving American education. However, this commitment may involve a reordering of the funder’s priorities. One area the couple identified is early childhood education, telling Kristof they plan to ramp up their investment in these programs. This has the potential for significant impact not only in early learning, but also extending to elementary and secondary education. Given the rapid amount of brain development that occurs in the first five years of a child’s life, high-quality early learning may be the best education intervention there is.

Historically, the Gates Foundation limited most, though not all, of its EC funding to its home state as part of its Washington State program. But in more recent months, the foundation has become a greater presence on the national EC stage. It is among the funders supporting the First Five Years Fund (FFYF), a national advocacy effort affiliated with the Ounce of Prevention Fund. FFYF hopes to expand the availability of early childhood education programs nationwide.

By its sheer size and influence alone, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has the capacity to greatly impact the discussion and actions taken in virtually any area in which it involves itself. We applaud this development and hope to see the success that has largely eluded many of its other education investments.