Erie’s Future Fund was created in 2011, an outgrowth of the Erie Community Foundation’s Early Childhood Advisory Panel in partnership with United Way of Erie County, members of the Early Learning Investment Commission (ELIC) and Erie Together. Leaders from the foundation, corporate, nonprofit and civic sectors sought to address growing concerns about the lack of school readiness among many children entering kindergarten, and the significant impact this was having now, and would have in the future, on Erie County’s economy and quality of life.
Early childhood research shows that well-focused early childhood education investments can produce high public returns, particularly for children living in families with low-income levels. Erie’s Future Fund will provide scholarships to low-income families in neighborhoods with the highest percentage of families with children under 5 living in poverty.
The scholarships allow children to attend a high-quality Early Childhood Education program at ages 3 and 4. Families select from area public and private ECE programs that meet the STARS* criteria of Level 3 or 4 or approved rating equivalent.
Erie’s Future Fund and its task forces that target areas of health, children’s mental health, education, special needs, and prevention of abuse and neglect, promotes parent involvement beginning prenatally. Families are provided guidance on selecting an ECE program, skills and knowledge necessary to promote school readiness throughout their child’s early years, and information about health, child development, and community resources to support their family’s needs.
Erie’s Future Fund initial goal was to provide scholarships for approximately 285 low-income children in the 2012-2013 school year.
The Erie Community Foundation, United Way of Erie County and local members of the Early Learning Investment Commission are the original stakeholders for Erie’s Future Fund and provide Early Connections still champion the scholarship in Erie County. This partnership also provides high-level oversight and facilitates resources for evaluation. Early Connections is coordinating the Erie’s Future Fund Scholarship Effort, providing support to the fundraising effort, policy development and direct administration of the scholarship. There are three major funding emphases: direct donations; EITC tax credit donations; and cause related marketing efforts (presently being coordinated through Early Connections).
Evaluation is built into the scholarship program. Formative evaluation will provide information about the implementation of the model and suggestions for improvement as the model is getting underway. The summative evaluation will measure the impact of the program on school readiness of participating children, responsiveness of supply to provide more high-quality openings for children, and engagement of participating parents in their children’s education.
*Keystone STARS (Improving quality through Standards, Training/Professional Development, Assistance, Resources and Support is an initiative of the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) to improve, support, and recognize continuous quality improvement efforts of early learning programs in PA. Performance Standards are grouped into four levels STAR 1-4. The standards address staff qualifications and professional development, the early learning program, partnerships with family and community, and leadership and management.