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Beyond Pre-K: District of Columbia-Area Foundation Aids Infants and Toddlers

The District of Columbia is at the top of the list when it comes to preschool access: 99 percent of the District's 4-year-olds are enrolled in city-funded prekindergarten, and 69 percent of its 3-year-olds attend preschool on the city's dime, according to the National Institute of Early Education Research

But the achievement gaps between children who are in low-income families and those born to more affluent parents begins in the cradle, says a recent report from the Bainum Family Foundation, which plans to pump  $2.2 million in new funding for local organizations that serve young children in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

"The foundation is really taking a very comprehensive look at young children and families and what is going to support healthy development," said Miriam Calderon, the foundation's senior director of early learning. In contrast to other areas where pre-K might just be getting off the ground, organizations in the District have the latitute to take a look at improving systems for younger children, Calderon said.

"It's really about children and taking  a systems perspective," she said. "They need high-quality and affordable child care, they need health care, they need housing, they need a pediatrician, they need safe parks and libraries." The foundation plans to support organizations that can expand services that are in short supply, she said.

Formerly known as the Commonweal Foundation, the Bainum Family Foundation was founded to support educational programs for children from low-income families One well-known initiative from the foundation offered college scholarships to 67 students who were in 7th grade in 1988. The students, now in their 30s, have been the subject of a documentary called "Southeast 67".

The foundation, which has traditionally focused on older students, made a $10 million pledge to support early learning as part of a White House initiative launched in 2015 called Invest in Us. The $2.2 million pledge will expand medical and social support for young children and their families, as well as help pay for new child-care centers in underserved neighborhoods. 

And the foundation also sees its role as bringing together groups that might not normally interact.

"We want to tap some of the best minds in the city that can think about how these systems can work better together," Calderon said. 

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