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Heinz Endowments Invests $9 Million in Nationwide Early Learning Effort

A national campaign aimed at increasing access to early childhood learning programs is getting a boost from one of Pittsburgh’s biggest charities.

The Heinz Endowments announced $9 million in funding for Invest in US, a program unveiled by President Obama at Wednesday’s White House Summit on Early Childhood Education. According to the White House website, Invest in US challenges public and private partners, business leaders, philanthropists, advocates, elected officials, and individuals to expand high-quality early childhood education.

“The stakes are high everywhere, but if we really think about our region and drill down just into the City of Pittsburgh, we have nearly 6,000 kids in the city who are three and four-year-olds, so in that classic pre-K age,” said Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments.

Of those, Oliphant said about 400 of those kids are on waiting lists for head-start and other programs, and even more are not eligible. He added there are about 3,000 kids in the city not being served with public, pre-K funds, and therefore not accessing early-learning programs.

“Too often that opportunity is predicated on your parents being affluent enough to send you to preschool or you being one of the lucky ones who have public access for this,” said Oliphant.

But education and community leaders want to ensure all children have access. The Heinz Endowments is one of nearly 40 charitable foundations, nonprofits and corporations to donate to the cause – in total more than $1 billion in investment to early childhood learning was announced by the White House.

Oliphant said after decades of research, it’s now clear how important early childhood education is.

“Brain research has proven that the experiences kids have in those first four to five years of life actually shape their capacity for later learning,” he said.

The foundation is also pledging $9 million more to support early childhood education efforts in the Pittsburgh region. They include, among other things, helping Mayor Bill Peduto implement 10 recommendations made by a panel he appointed on early childhood education, and efforts to lobby for universal pre-K education.