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The Starting Line: Behind a Push by Foundations to Expand Access to Childcare in Their Cities

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Via Inside Philanthropy | By Caitlin Reilly

The Reinvestment Fund is coordinating efforts in several cities to expand access to high quality childcare using detailed analysis of existing local supply and demand. As access to pre-K becomes more common, childcare could be the next frontier for funders focused on early childhood learning and development, as well as those looking to bolster working families. 

Ira Goldstein, the fund’s president of policy solutions, describes the Reinvestment Fund as “a financial institution with a public purpose.”

“We lend money, we make grants, we do research,” he said. “All with an eye toward building up wealth and economic opportunity for people in places for whom that’s a challenge.”

Childcare has been a mainstay of that work since at least the 1990s, Goldstein said, which makes sense, given the fund’s mission to encourage economic opportunity. Childcare has backers among the early childhood development field, but it’s also seen as a tool for economic advancement, especially for women. Access to affordable childcare can mean the difference between returning to work or foregoing an income to stay home with a kid. For single moms, the contrast is especially stark.


About five years ago, the Reinvestment Fund started collaborating with foundations interested in expanding access to high-quality childcare in their cities. So far, the work includes collaborations with the William Penn Foundation in Philadelphia, the Richard W. Goldman Family Foundation in Atlanta and its surrounding counties, the Bainum Foundation in Washington, D.C., the Foundation for Newark’s Future in Newark, New Jersey, and the Nicholson and the Henry and Marilyn Taub foundations in Paterson City and Passaic County, New Jersey.

The starting point for each of these collaborations was a detailed analysis by the fund of the supply and demand for childcare in each city to identify gaps.

Elliot Weinbaum, the director of the William Penn Foundation’s Great Learning program, recalled entering the childcare field.

“One of the first things we did in that space was figure out how many childcare providers there are in Philadelphia, which sounds like people should know that information, but it turns out many cities do not. Philadelphia was among them, until four years ago,” Weinbaum said. “That was our baseline information. What is the scope of our challenge here? No one could really tell us.”

So the foundation partnered with the Reinvestment Fund to get some answers. Since then, the foundation has put about $20 million into the Fund for Quality, which is housed and managed by the Reinvestment Fund. Vanguard has put an additional $3 million into the Fund for Quality.

Weinbaum says the Fund for Quality has led to the creation of more than 2,000 new seats in high-quality childcare facilities. The goal is to add another 1,400 by 2020.

The emphasis of the projects in Philadelphia and the other cities is sustainability, said Reinvestment’s Goldstein. To achieve that, foundations needed more detailed data than is the norm in the childcare sector, he said. For example, it’s important to account for where people work, not just where they live, since many parents drop kids off on the way to jobs. It’s also important to capture the lower-quality childcare available in the area. Understanding the competition influences the business plan for new or expanding centers.


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