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Kids at Operation Breakthrough

How to scale the building blocks of success

A collaborative strategy is focused on changing the landscape of early education to meet the needs of a region.

Collaborative grant making – creating alignment among a group of people, as well as between 12 organizations – isn’t easy. The members of the Early Education Funders Collaborative have dedicated the Collaborative to a strategic approach in order to make sustained, region-wide improvement in early learning possible.

The recently released Early Education Funders Collaborative Case Study, commissioned by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation through SRI International, outlines the benefits, challenges and future direction of the unique Kansas City-based funding collaborative.

A group that learns together

The Collaborative

Awarded $9.6 million in 37 grants to 29 organizations in 2016-17, supporting access to early learning programs, workforce development, parent support programs and systems change efforts, benefitting almost 17,000 children.

While members acknowledged the necessarily slower process of the Collaborative, they reported that having many voices at the table results in better decisions. “The dynamic of the conversation and due diligence process and planning process have been far more rich than what a single funding organization can achieve,” said a member quoted in the report.

“It’s a group that works well together; it’s a group that learns well together.”

A systematic focus is essential as demand for local early care and education services in the Kansas City metro area greatly exceeds supply. The region’s 56,000 spaces in licensed home- and center-based care programs can serve less than half the 126,000 children under age 5. More than 1 in 5 of these children live in poverty, and 1 in 3 are children of color.

Scaling knowledge

After the Early Education Funders Collaborative’s first two funding cycles in 2016, overall investments in Kansas City’s early education community had increased by 79 percent since 2015. One example is Pre-KC, launched this year by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Sesame Street in Communities to bring the business community together with families to work toward quality early learning experiences.

The challenge isn’t the ability to fund quality early learning providers, but how to leverage that funding to change the landscape of early childhood education and make it available throughout the region.

It’s one thing to aid individual organizations to create positive outcomes, but to ensure that all children in the target population – low-income, children of color – are ready for kindergarten, the Collaborative is interested in taking risks beyond supporting individual providers. It is exploring ways to use relationships with well-established, high-quality providers to support less established organizations with fewer resources, but may serve hard-to-reach children from the target population. It has also committed a portion of the fund to support improvement in early learning systems, such as policy advocacy.

“How do we help [organizations that have achieved good outcomes for children] share that knowledge and spread it to the other agencies in town providing the same services?” a member said in the report. “The intention of the Collaborative is to move those best practices beyond a single agency. That’s our next challenge.”

Learn more about the Early Education Funders Collaborative and how investing in early education impacts economic growth for cities.

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