As part of our CDFI Spotlight series, guest blogger Amanda High, Director, Chief of Strategic Initiatives for Reinvestment Fund reports on their work to achieve universal access to high-quality pre-kindergarten in Philadelphia.

In the 1960s, the High/Scope Perry Preschool program created high-quality early learning opportunities for 3- and 4-year-old African-American children from low-income neighborhoods in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The program’s researchers followed the children for four decades, documenting the impact of the early education they received. The results were impressive—the children achieved greater school readiness, higher levels of school commitment and achievement in the middle school years, better rates of high school completion, and higher wages. Nearly 50 years later, studies continue to affirm that longer-term outcomes are significantly better for children that receive high-quality early childhood education.

Given the overwhelming evidence, how do we then ensure that low-income children are getting access to the quality early education that can set the stage for later success? In Philadelphia, the Fund for Quality is a two-pronged approach to address this very question. 

The first step was to understand the supply and quality of child care and the demand for that service. Unfortunately in Philadelphia, as with many cities, there was no single data source to adequately capture that information. This is where Reinvestment Fund stepped in. Supported by the William Penn Foundation, Reinvestment Fund aggregated multiple datasets to develop an analysis that reveals gaps in the supply of child care, and high-quality care in particular. Based on this analysis, Reinvestment Fund created an interactive tool, Childcare Map, that identifies the neighborhoods where high-quality care is most scarce in absolute and relative terms. This tool, accessible at www.childcaremap.org, empowers funders, practitioners, parents and child care advocates with better data on where resources and intervention are needed.

But better data is of limited utility without a plan to use it to improve actual outcomes for children. To do this in Philadelphia, the data was used to inform and develop a targeted investment strategy to increase high-quality seats in the specific neighborhoods where the analysis suggests they are most needed. The result is the Fund for Quality, a partnership of Reinvestment Fund, William Penn Foundation and Public Health Management Corporation to provide capital and planning services for the expansion of high-quality early childhood education facilities, particularly for families with low incomes.

The Fund for Quality helps high-quality centers serve more children in current sites and open new sites in areas of identified high need. It was launched in 2014 with an initial $4.6 million grant from the William Penn Foundation and an additional $1.5 million in capital from Reinvestment Fund. In the two years since, the initiative has added 690 new, high-quality slots in early childhood education settings, with current outcomes data suggesting 85 percent of those slots are occupied by children of low-income families.

In the spring of 2016, the William Penn Foundation moved to dramatically expand the initiative with a $15 million grant. In addition to the grant funds available to high-quality providers, Reinvestment Fund also committed up to $7.65 million in loan capital from its network of 850 investors, to be used for facility expansion. With this next phase of funding, it is anticipated that by January 2021, an additional 1,500 high-quality seats will be added, which means that over the coming years thousands more children from low-income families will be enrolled in high-quality child care in Philadelphia.

As the success of the early efforts of the Fund for Quality point toward a promising foothold of achieving universal access to high-quality pre-kindergarten in Philadelphia, cities around the country are beginning to take note. Supported by local philanthropy, Reinvestment Fund is currently replicating this model in three additional cities.

To be a contributor in our CDFI Spotlight series, contact Lindsay Li

 

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