Early Childhood Policy Q&A – Marcia Egbert, George Gund Foundation
What do you see as the most critical policy issues currently facing the early childhood field?
I would put fiscal and tax issues at the top of the list. That’s because fiscal policy creates the federal “money pie” to be distributed and the size of the pie matters. I’m not talking just about direct funding for early childhood, but funding for all of the related issues that contribute to the stability of vulnerable families. There’s a looming threat as federal policymakers have advocated shifting away from investment in policies that support the economic stability of families and shifting toward things like military spending and the border wall.
I also see a growing threat to public education. Although the early childhood field embraces a mixed market for delivery of early childhood services, in many communities the public schools play a critical role. They are often high quality and are growing providers of pre-K. Public schools are also important sources of parent and family support. Any threat to public education is a threat to the healthy growth and development of young children.
And, the behemoth issue, I believe, is income inequality. I fear we will become a nation of have and have nots. We have to pay attention to any policies that widen the income gap.
What roles can funders play in supporting federal policy and moving these issues?
Philanthropy can and should embrace policy and advocacy related grantmaking at the federal, state, and local levels. Our grantmaking has the ability to influence the environments in which nonprofits are operating, and we should seek out those grant partners that are skillful in informing policy or committed to building capacity in that arena. It’s so important that their voices are heard.
I think we have a responsibility as a professional network to share our experiences and opinions collectively. Our collective voice is more apt to be heard. We have the luxury to invest in identifying and promoting innovation through calculated risk-taking. Philanthropy enjoys the luxury of a favorable tax status and I think that with that comes a responsibility to test and explore new avenues and help translate them into effective public policy.
Not everything has be to done at the federal level, of course. Important issues are emerging locally and bubbling up. We can play a key role in researching, documenting and communicating those issues to grant partners, policy makers and influencers. If we want to highlight the effective use of federal dollars, we can start in our own backyard.
What does your foundation do in this arena and why?
Gund supports key federal, state and local organizations that directly embrace the policymaking process, like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for Law and Social Policy. We also support research with a policy lens. At the state level, we support organizations that unite the policy analysis work and advocacy skills and have a focus on early childhood. That is one way we can help break through the din of bureaucracy. We like to support those organizations that go to bed at night and wake up thinking about policy through the lens of young children and families.
We also invest in public private partnerships at the local level that are taking best practices to scale. In that way we are achieving impact that we could never achieve on our own. For example, in Cuyahoga County we support Invest in Children, a community-wide, public/private partnership that supports a wide range of organizations, including government agencies, community-based service providers, and philanthropic and private organizations, all working together to help increase the development, funding, visibility and impact of early childhood services. Another example is PRE4CLE, a plan to ensure all three- and four-year old children in Cleveland have access to a high-quality preschool by increasing the number of high-quality preschools in the city, helping preschool providers improve their quality rating, and connecting families to quality preschool programs.
How can ECFC support its members in addressing policy issues?
I think ECFC does a really good job of providing us with support on policy issues. Policy updates are a consistent thread running through all of our meetings. ECFC attracts government leaders and others from the field – the best and brightest early childhood thinkers. That access to senior policy makers and national and state experts has been invaluable. Also, I highly value the opportunities that ECFC provides to think with my peers and work together on compelling issues. I like having a network that rallies around critical moments, like a new administration or the launch of a big policy proposal. And I like learning about local efforts in other parts of the country. The sharing and learning with other foundations is a wonderful asset for our work.