Constellation Blog

Posted: November 15, 2021 11:00 AM

Constellation Philanthropy Sunsets After 7 Years of Impactful Grant-Making

At the culmination of 7 incredible years of active support of and engagement in the early childhood ecosystem in Colorado, the Board and staff of Constellation Philanthropy have made the difficult decision to sunset the organization at the end of 2021. This decision was made based on a deep assessment of the following factors:

  • Notable increase in early childhood- focused public funding (we had set out with the goal of creating proof points to unlock sustainable public funds)
  • Natural lifecycle of engagement & unforeseen changes in life circumstances for members (members are armed with a deep understanding of the ecosystem and have built strong relationships across our portfolio organizations);
  • And seven years of remarkable work & continuous improvement of our model (we will continue to share our lessons learned with the broader funder community).

At the end of 2021, 37 families will have “graduated” from our unique peer learning funding model ready to continue to support innovative solutions in the early childhood development ecosystem. We collectively will have supported 74 innovative solutions across the State of Colorado totaling over $7 million by the end of our 7th and final year of operations.

We are extremely proud to have served as a bridge between the phenomenal leaders working tirelessly for our state and philanthropic families looking to make smart and catalytic investment decisions in early childhood development.  And we look forward to carrying the torch forward on our individual funding journeys.    

Posted: December 21, 2018 8:20 AM

Special thanks to Bill Jaeger of Colorado Children’s Campaign, Laura Carlson of Buell Foundation, Elsa Holguin of Rose Community Foundation, Bruce Hoyt and Steffanie Clothier of Gary Community Investments, and the Office of Early Childhood for assistance with this overview.

Colorado By The Numbers

State of the State
(as described in the Colorado Shines Brighter application to the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five, i.e. PDG B-5)

  • Colorado is home to approximately 399,800 children under 6,
  • almost a fifth of whom (17.4%) are living in poverty1,
  • 5% live in rural areas or rural centers2, and
  • 7% are living in households that speak a language other than English at home3.
  • Further, of children under 5, 101,278 are enrolled in WIC4 and
  • 4,571 were confirmed by child protective services as victims of maltreatment5.
  • Many of these children do not currently benefit from high quality early childhood care and education programs, diminishing their school readiness. Table 6 shows the number of children currently using early childhood programs.
  • Additionally, 79,708 children live in a census tract considered a “food desert”6,
  • 65,541 live in a neighborhood which their parents feel is “unsafe”7 and
  • 287,000 children under 18 are foreign-born or live with at least one foreign-born parent,8 and
  • 24,685 students in the K-12 system experienced homelessness (2,052 were unaccompanied homeless youth)9.

1. Gubernatorial Transition

All eyes are on our new Governor, and the early childhood community is paying attention to what will happen at the department leadership level.  The most critical departments affecting early childhood are the following:  Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) which houses the Office of Early Childhood, Department of Health Care, Financing and Policy (HCFP), and the Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE).  It should be noted that there is no early childhood representative on the Governor’s transition team.  And while the early childhood champion role has in recent years centralized in the role of Lieutenant Governor, Rep. Dianne Primavera will be focused on and drawing from her expertise in healthcare.

  • See the transition website for committee chairmanship: Committees will likely not engage in much policy work and instead will focus on identifying and hiring agency leadership.
  • Lisa Kauffman will be Chief of Staff, and Eve Lieberman will be Chief Policy Advisor
    • Colorado Children’s Campaign has connected with both and have shared their policy agenda items developed via their Advisory Board policy visioning process and specific strategies based on the Early Childhood Leadership Commission
  • We are hearing that they will move quick on agency leadership with a goal of the transition committees finalizing their recommendations by late December.

2. Universal Kindergarten vs. Universal Pre-Kindergarten

Among the first legislation introduced in the 2019 session will be full-day kindergarten (either fully funding or increasing state funding overall).  Most chatter amongst early childhood insiders involves the hope that universal Pre-K would be the focus, rather than kindergarten. 78% of all enrolled kindergarteners are in a full-day program in 2018, even though the state funds only half day kindergarten.

Chart showing the growing enrollment in full-day kindergarten programs in Colorado between 2001/02 and 2017/18. Source: Colorado Children’s Campaign.

However, as Bill Jaeger notes in the recent Colorado Children’s Campaign KidsFlash, there are positives involved in a legislative focus of full-day kindergarten:

  • Despite the growth in demand, there are nearly 14,000 kindergarteners not enrolled in a full-day program. (Parents couldn’t afford additional tuition, or local communities could not afford a mill levy to cover costs, or the district could not cut funds from other programs to offer access.)
  • Current access to full-day kindergarten is not equitable: Districts with large concentrations of low-income children bear disproportionate share of cuts from other priorities (teacher pay, counseling, class size) to offer full-day. This would be remedied with universal full-day K.
  • Fully funding full-day K could free up resources to invest in the Colorado Preschool Program. This could equate to an additional $22 million in expenditure and pre-k 5,380 slots for supporting preschool access.  (Currently more than 4,000 children are on the wait list for Colorado Preschool Program (CPP) and more than 11,000 4-year-olds are eligible for CPP but don’t have access.)

Read Colorado Children’s Campaign’s KidsFlash to learn more.

3.  Preschool Development Grant: “Colorado Shines Brighter”

Source: Kids Count Data 2018

In September, the US Administration for Children and Families released the Funding Opportunity Announcement for the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5). The PDG B-5 grants support states in their efforts to analyze the current landscape of their early childhood education mixed delivery system. Through this analysis, states can implement changes to the system that maximize the availability of high-quality early childhood care and education options for low-income and disadvantaged families across providers and partners, improve the quality of care, streamline administrative infrastructure, and improve state-level early childhood care and education funding efficiencies.

The State of Colorado applied for $8.2 million through the PDG B-5 and will provide a non-federal contribution of $2.5 million.  All funds will be communicated and awarded by year end 2018.

Project outcomes will be focused on:

  • Meaningful & equitable access to high quality formal care
  • Informal care supports for enriching environments
  • Coordinated & aligned systems

Learn more about the PDG B-5 here.

We are paying attention to this grant for two reasons:

  • We love the assessment of needs component, with an eye to better understanding the Family, Friends and Neighbor space (which is challenging to map and resource);
  • It will provide support to continuing to modernize the IT systems, which will incorporate important projects such as the CCCAP Contracting Slots pilot, as well as the potential to link subsidy programs to encourage more providers to serve lower income communities.

4.  In-Home Providers

Licensed child care capacity in Colorado (child care centers, family child care homes and preschools) serves just 60% of the children under six years of age in Colorado who likely need child care while their parents work.  In many counties, there are no licensed child care centers, making family child care homes the only option working families have for licensed care.  Despite the vast need across both urban and rural settings, Colorado has seen a steady decline of 1,500 licensed family child care homes since 2010, with an average of 180 licensed homes closing each year.  This is particularly important for infant child care, which is more often provided in licensed homes than in centers.  Thus, Colorado has ~8,000 fewer licensed infant slots in the state in 2018 than in 2010.

As noted earlier, the Preschool Development Grant (PDG B-5) will take a short-term in-depth look at the space via a comprehensive assessment of needs and barriers.  Additionally, there is a bi-partisan bill in the works with urban and rural representation that will develop legislative buy-in, informed by statewide data, for a long-term solution to both the decline of in-home providers, and infant care more broadly.

We are also seeing a number of new models enter the space that will benefit from legislative focus and introduce innovative solutions.  For example, we are watching: My Village, and a new Cooperative pilot in development in NW Aurora.

5. Colorado Workforce Development Council

In October 2018, the Colorado Workforce Development Council launched the first statewide Education Sector Partnership.  This launch acknowledges the education sector as a significant source of employment for local and regional communities (CO’s 4th largest industry by employment!), and a foundation for Colorado’s economy.  Stakeholders from across the Education continuum (early childhood, K-12, higher education) will collaborate to address talent recruiting and retention, public perception, and messaging.

In just the first couple months since the launch, the collaboration (including industry outsiders) has been able to take a “hard look under the hood,” asking pertinent and productive questions in order to identify the best course of action.  We suspect some great systemic changes for the EC Workforce could be at play in the coming months.

6.  Early Childhood Innovation Ecosystem

In early 2017, Gary Community Investments (GCI) committed to early childhood innovation with a multi-year, multi-million-dollar commitment to “surfacing, piloting, supporting, and scaling solutions to support early learning and development.”  Recall that as a part of this work, they teamed with OpenIDEO to launch the Early Childhood Innovation Prize.  There were 570 applications from across the world, from which 15 innovative solutions were selected as winners.  So, what’s next?  GCI is now exploring how to catalyze a thriving innovation ecosystem in Colorado that leverages the local startup culture and brings together individuals and organizations thinking differently about early childhood development. This ecosystem would create a community of investors, entrepreneurs and entities supporting for-profit and nonprofit ventures through access to capital, talent, testing opportunities, research and policy navigation support.

7.  New Funding Model: Private Pay For Success

With innovative solutions comes innovative funding opportunities.  We are actively exploring a new concept that allows philanthropic capital to “lock in impact” while simultaneously unlocking additional return-generating capital.  We’re calling this “Private Pay for Success,” where philanthropic capital is only drawn down if impact metrics are met.  We’ll learn more about the potential to build a fund to apply Private Pay for Success to early childhood development in Colorado.

8.  Early Childhood Roadmaps in Districts

There are several individual districts across Colorado who are launching roadmaps incorporating Early Childhood into their broader strategy.  This is an important trend to watch for two reasons:

  • Districts are recognizing the importance of the Preschool – Third Grade continuum of development, with a focus on continuity of literacy efforts. We’ll stay engaged on this in order to identify the most effective literacy programs that can scale up and down the age range.  In particular, we are watching Children’s Literacy Initiative and Tools of the Mind.
  • Districts are also recognizing the power of their schools as a community resource, and leveraging programming accordingly. As schools are a natural place to “meet families where they are,” we are seeing an increase in wrap-around services directed to multiple family generations.  For example, the Centers for Family Opportunity combines services such as a laundry bus, play and learn groups, and continuing education for adults in an effort to serve the whole family.

The districts to watch for Early Childhood and whole family roadmaps are:  Denver (Birth to Eight Roadmap), JeffCo (Bright Futures Roadmap), Summit and Telluride to date.

9.  Shifting Focus from Early Intervention to Prevention

Arguably, prevention work has been pervasive for a long time – as seen through the breadth of home visitation programs across our nation.  We are noting this focus on prevention expand to developmental delays, as Colorado legislators consider a new policy to tweak the Early Intervention System.

Colorado’s Early Intervention System has a strong record of improving child outcomes, reducing downstream costs, and closing gaps in child development for children already exhibiting substantial delays.  Through local Community Centered Boards (CCBs), the program supports children 0-2 experiencing developmental delays by providing a Service Coordinator as well as an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP), and transition plan to Preschool Special Education Services if delays persist beyond the 3rd birthday.

The opportunity we are watching is potential policy to introduce an “Environmental Risk” categorization for eligibility for services.  I.e., rather than wait for children to exhibit a level of developmental delay that qualifies the child and family for an IFSP, Colorado is considering identifying a research-based, limited set of circumstances that qualify families for a connection to Early Intervention even if a child has not yet developed a developmental delay.

10.  Buses – they’re all the rage.

We have seen a steady stream of opportunities come through our pipeline that hope to use a bus, equipped as a mobile learning environment, as a way to expand Early Childhood coverage.  Buses are beginning to be considered an innovative solution across both rural and urban communities.  Recall, for example, that Constellation Philanthropy has funded a bus via the Valley Settlement Project that expands access to ECE to children across the Roaring Fork Valley.  In urban settings, it has been more challenging to navigate permitting; however, we are beginning to see an uptick in efforts.  For example, Right On Mobile Learning has been operating in Federal Heights and Thornton, and plans an expansion to the greater Denver Metro area.   And on the demand side, buses are beginning to be considered as a solution for unique situations, such as the lack of childcare being the largest detractor to parents seeking substance abuse treatment.  We are actively working with organizations across the field to connect the dots on potential solutions between supply and demand.  Chalkbeat recently published an overview of mobile preschool classrooms.  Read more here.

1 Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2012-2016 5-Year Estimates Table B17024
2 Source: American Community Survey, US Census Bureau. Table B17024
3 Source: American Community Survey, US Census Bureau. Table B16007.
4 Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology
5 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) Child File, FFY 2000–2016
6 Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Institute
7 Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Survey of Children’s Health.
8 Source: U.S. Census Bureau
9 Source: McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program, Colorado Data Summary
10 Child counts for licensed programs are approximated by licensed capacity