History and Impact of the Educare Learning Network
In 2000, Start Early, the Irving Harris Foundation and other partners created the first stand-alone Educare school, Educare Chicago, on the city’s South Side.
Shortly after opening its doors, Educare Chicago attracted the attention of Susie Buffett, founder of BECF and a philanthropist, at that time, new to early childhood. Susie Buffett was seeking to improve educational outcomes and bring an effective early education initiative to Omaha, Nebraska. Following consultations with Start Early and a site visit to our Educare school, she decided to invest in establishing an Educare school in Omaha, which opened in 2003.
Through BECF and Start Early’s leadership and partnerships with other Head Start providers, school superintendents and philanthropists around the country, the Educare Network has since grown to 25 birth-to-five schools in 15 states, Washington DC and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. In Nebraska alone, BECF has supported the development of four Educare schools and three infant-toddler centers while fueling state policy and systems change to improve early care and education across the state. They have also inspired and engaged a cadre of philanthropic leaders to invest in early education across the country. As the Educare Network’s founding and longest-standing philanthropic partner, BECF works with Start Early and Educare schools to leverage the Network’s national footprint, invest in and scale innovative approaches and build capacity for policy and systems impact.
BECF’s Role in Accelerating Innovations in the Educare Network
Educare schools are learning hubs that innovate and share best practices to transform the lives of young children and positively impact the broader early childhood field. Through its Acceleration Grant initiative, BECF sparked and invested in innovation across the Educare Network, expanding the impact and reach of effective program and policy strategies developed by Network members to additional Educare schools and other early childhood providers nationwide.
Outcomes of BECF’s Acceleration Grant initiative include the expansion of the Educare Parent Ambassadors program, which develops and empowers parents and family members to use their voices and lived experiences in the advocacy arena. Building on the success of Educare Seattle and Educare Central Maine’s programs, Parent Ambassadors now includes six Educare schools and additional non-Educare programs in states across the country, with plans to further expand. The Acceleration Grant program also supported the scaling of Educare Miami’s Early Science Initiative to other Educare schools, a workforce mindfulness and wellness program from Educare Denver/Clayton Early Learning and an effective educator coaching initiative led by Educare Arizona/Southwest Human Development, among others.
Driving Federal Policy Change Through the First Five Years Fund
In 2007, BECF joined Start Early in launching the First Five Years Fund, a bipartisan advocacy organization that galvanizes support for greater investment in and access to high-quality learning and care.
For fifteen-plus years, FFYF, with support from BECF and other visionary philanthropic partners, has played a crucial role in strengthening and expanding federal early learning programs and building unprecedented federal bipartisan support. This ever-growing momentum, demonstrated by a roughly 60% increase in funding and near-unanimous reauthorization of federal early childhood programs since 2008, represents significant progress and years of dedicated work.
FFYF’s efforts have been integral to maximizing the impact of federal investments supporting the expansion of early childhood opportunities. Additionally, as COVID-19 illuminated long-standing inequities in our country’s systems and policies, FFYF has amplified the role of early learning and care in advancing racial equity, plus the changes needed to create opportunities for all children to thrive. This emphasis on addressing inequities through the promise of quality early childhood education is at the core of BECF and Start Early’s missions, and we are grateful to have a like-minded partner in BECF for this critical work.
One of BECF’s greatest contributions has been inspiring the support of new philanthropic partners to join the movement for quality early learning and care, focusing on closing the opportunity gap.