5 Top Takeaways from the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Webinar: Philanthropy and Public Financing for Children - Early Learning Nation

5 Top Takeaways from the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Webinar: Philanthropy and Public Financing for Children

On March 19, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR) hosted a discussion titled “Investing in the Future,” exploring the role of philanthropy in public financing for children, with insights from communities that have leveraged philanthropy for children’s funding wins.

Sarah Torian, chief learning officer for CGLR, opened the discussion, and Elizabeth Gaines, founder and CEO, Children’s Funding Project, moderated a panel of four children’s funding leaders:

Here are our 5 Top Takeaways:

1. You don’t have to go it alone. Children’s funding advocates have many places to turn for support and resources. The Children’s Funding Project trains people in fiscal mapping and identifying sources of additional potential revenue, along with offering convenings, coaching, tools and a map of children’s funds nationwide. Additionally, they host the Children’s Funding Accelerator, which pools funds to support ballot measures to fund early childhood development.

As Jarrett noted, “This is a long game, relationship-building, and I think, out of the harm of COVID…there’s a greater understanding of the public at large and diverse stakeholders in the role of government as a force for good when it comes to children and youth coming out of COVID.”

Advocates also have access to a wide range of further resources and inspiration, including:

2. Start now (and other proven strategies). “Don’t wait for the timing to start,” Storrs recommended. “Start now, so when the timing happens, you’re ready to go.” The right political moment might be just around the corner. For example, when the pandemic hit and people in the Anchorage community saw the need for child care, advocates were able to make the case more easily for directing sales tax revenue from recreational marijuana to address this immediate need.

Battiste stressed the importance of advocacy, stating that the COO of their local United Way is a lobbyist, “so we understand that lobbying is important, and we set a policy agenda every year for our United Way.”

Battiste also noted the role of coalitions and messengers, sharing that they collaborate with their child care providers network for advocacy and that parents are the face of their campaigns. Flaherty noted the role of incremental progress to build up to a funding win. “We built the case over six years,” she said, “of consistently coming to County Council meetings, presenting on community data.” She also shared the importance of “taking one step at a time” with her board, to look at community data, fund some polling and review results before launching into a campaign.

3. We can learn from examples of success to secure local public financing. The webinar featured three initiatives across the country—in Louisiana, Washington and Alaska—that secured funding for children through local campaigns and ballot measures, demonstrating the potential of pursuing local public financing for children’s initiatives.

  • Battiste described how local advocates in partnership with the United Way and others led a “Yes for NOLA Kids” campaign that achieved the passage of a ballot measure in 2022 to generate around $21 million per year for early learning efforts in New Orleans. This success built on years of advocacy that began in 2007 and raised more funding and support each year. (Read more.)
  • Flaherty described her organization’s role in securing passage of a ballot measure also in 2022 that will produce about $10 million per year to increase access to child care and mental and behavioral health, as well as decrease youth homelessness.
  • Storrs outlined his organization’s collaboration with partners in Anchorage, Alaska, to secure the passage of a ballot initiative in 2023 to steer local sales tax dollars from the sale of the recently legalized recreational marijuana toward programming for early childhood development and education.

4. More public funding for children is needed to meet needs and address gaps. From child care to education to after-school programs, more funding is needed to address access and equity gaps between lower-income and higher-income. For example, for every young person in an after-school program, four more are waiting to get in, with program costs cited as the greatest barrier.

Though the federal government allocated unprecedented education and other funding to states and districts during and after the pandemic through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, we are approaching a “fiscal cliff,” with ESSER dollars expiring this fall.

A Children’s Funding Project map of voter-approved children’s funds shows the potential for more communities to pursue local funding to contribute to overall funds for children and address current and anticipated needs.

5. Philanthropy can support and accelerate public investments in children. Gaines highlighted ways funders can contribute to generating public funding for kids, including convening people to define shared goals and spending priorities, and funding and conducting research including fiscal mapping.

Jarrett explained that her organization created the Heising-Simons Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) entity, to build capacity for leaders in public financing strategies and help them create political power to secure these funding wins.

And Flaherty shared her perspective, as a fellow funder, that funders “have a bird’s-eye view of the whole landscape of community need and all the different partners that they could bring together” and they can fund the coordination of those partners as a backbone entity and build public will.

Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.

Get the latest in early learning science, community and more:

Join us