Ballmer Group is making $43 million in new childcare and early childhood education investments in Washington State. Recipients include the University of Washington, Child Care Aware Washington, and Pathwaves WA, and these grants will focus on building, strengthening, and diversifying the state’s early childhood education workforce.
We believe deeply in accessible, high-quality early childhood education (read more about our past work here and here). The research to support these investments is clear: a child’s early months and years of life are a critical time of rapid brain development, and being in a high-quality learning environment is a crucial element that sets kids up for future success. That opportunity shouldn’t be out of reach for any child or their family.
Ensuring access to high-quality early childhood education requires a deep, diverse field of excellent early learning educators and services. Unfortunately, the early childhood workforce in Washington and beyond is in crisis: lower earnings and high-cost barriers to entry force talented students and professionals to rule out early education as a career path. Despite their critical importance to our youngest learners, early childhood educators are near the bottom of all U.S. occupations when ranked by pay—often making barely above the federal poverty level. We’ve also written previously (here) about how systemic racism impacts every system in the U.S., and early childhood education is no different: Black early childhood educators earn, on average, 76% of the salary of their White counterparts.
Without a strong pipeline of trained and talented early childhood educators, our littlest kids’ opportunity for future economic mobility suffers – and their parents’ does as well. A lack of high-quality childcare options—due in part to limited workforce availability—significantly impacts working families, as it limits the ability of parents (particularly mothers) to pursue their own careers. This ultimately negatively impacts our economy as a whole, with economic losses due to a lack of childcare options totaling an estimated $122 billion per year.
Addressing this issue requires a multi-pronged approach. There is an immediate need to increase and diversify the early learning workforce pipeline and reduce cost barriers to the career – and there is also a need to create broader systemic changes in policy and programs.
That’s why Ballmer Group is excited to share this set of grants designed to help improve Washington State’s early childhood education workforce at multiple levels.
The anchor of our approach is a $38 million gift to the University of Washington over eight years to make early childhood education training and certification more accessible through cost-of-attendance scholarships and to increase and diversify the pipeline of early childhood education providers:
80 high school internships (10 per year) connected to My Brother’s Teacher at Cultivate Learning, a program in the Seattle Public Schools focused on increasing the number of male Black and brown early childhood education teachers.
1,200 undergraduate scholarships serving at least 600 students in the final two years of their college careers.
115 scholarships for a Master’s in Early Childhood Education Policy at UW’s new Early Childhood Policy and Equity Center, part of the Early Childhood Policy in Institutions of Higher Education (ECPIHE) Initiative.
230 Early Childhood Coaching Certificate scholarships, increasing the number of coaches who work with early childhood professionals to improve their teaching with practical support and guidance.
Additional funding will help support alignment from early learning into K-12 systems; two endowed doctoral fellowships, two endowed professorships, and a full-time staff person to focus on recruiting and retaining students of color.
More work than scholarships alone will be required to increase the number of people entering early childhood education and bolster the number of people of color teaching in the field. This session, the Washington legislature can continue investments in the historic Fair Start for Kids Act by increasing reimbursement rates for licensed childcare programs. At the same time, work is underway to include funding to lay the groundwork for an affordable childcare system that anchors how we pay state funds for childcare in the true costs of care, including living wages and benefits. Only with long-term system change can we ensure that scholarship recipients are moving into a career that values the importance of their work.
That’s why the gifts to UW are bolstered by an additional $5.65 million in grants to build and strengthen the early childhood policy by cultivating diverse leadership and driving legislative advocacy on workforce policies.
$4 million over four years to Child Care Aware Washington to lead advocacy efforts designed to effectively implement and fund best-in-class workforce policies, including improvements to teacher retention, pay, and professional development.
$1.65 million over three years to Pathwaves WA to elevate leaders of color in the early childhood policy space via their fellowship program. It is essential that those with the power to shape early childhood policy reflect and are accountable to communities that face additional barriers due to systemic racism.
We are incredibly excited to support these grantees in the long-term work to reshape Washington’s early childhood workforce. We believe this multi-year and multi-pronged approach has strong potential to drive impact – but we also know we have a long road ahead to strengthen and diversify the early childhood workforce in the state. As these grants progress, our team will work to share progress and build learnings that further inform our work on early childhood in Washington and beyond.