The pre-kindergarten years are when children learn critical social, cognitive and other skills that lay the foundation for educational success.

Children who are “kindergarten-ready” are better equipped to meet educational milestones, and less likely to drop out of school or experience other adverse outcomes in life. Children that are behind in their development when starting kindergarten are up to seven times more likely to be suspended or expelled, according to a recent study by the John Hopkins School of Nursing.

Children from families earning a low income disproportionately lack access to educational resources that children from middle- and upper-income families enjoy. Studies have shown that by age 5, half of children living in poverty are neither academically nor socially ready for school.

Taking Action

In some San Diego communities, over 50% of children live in poverty. Some early studies indicate the COVID pandemic has made matters worse, causing greater learning loss for children from under-resourced communities, and amplifying the need for early childhood education resources.

With these statistics in mind, San Diego Women’s Foundation members voted to fund organizations addressing disparities in early childhood education for our Cycle 23 grants.

However, to fund solutions to such a challenging issue, we first have to understand it – and that includes learning about the factors that contribute to it, who is most impacted by it, and the work that is being done in our community to address the issue.

Learning From Partners

In September, we began reaching out to nonprofits to help us learn about our funding topic through an appreciative inquiry survey. Their responses allowed us to better understand the work happening in our community to address disparities in early childhood education, narrow our grant guidelines, and identify the areas where support is most needed.

Almost 50 organizations responded to our survey this year, and here are a few of the things that we learned:

We asked organizations: What do you consider the most critical educational issues or needs for children aged 0-8 in San Diego?

The top responses were:

  • Mental health & socioemotional learning
  • Learning loss due to COVID
  • Loss of foundational fluencies (spatial awareness, problem-solving, etc.) that kids learn in their pre-kindergarten years

When asked about the communities most impacted by educational disparities, our survey respondents highlighted the following:

  • BIPOC communities
  • Families with English as their second language
  • Communities earning low-incomes
  • Pre-kindergarten children

Finally, when it comes to the biggest obstacles nonprofits face in this work, staff costs and general funding rose to the top by a wide margin.

In particular, respondents highlighted the costs of staff recruitment, retention, salaries and professional development. For general funding needs, nonprofit staff noted the difficulty of obtaining multi-year and unrestricted funding.

Grantseekers Welcome

Thanks to this feedback, we have narrowed our grant guidelines to better reflect community needs. SDWF is accepting letters of inquiry (LOI) from nonprofit organizations working to address the widening educational inequities in pre-kindergarten education for children from under-resourced communities.

Local nonprofit organizations interested in applying must submit a letter of inquiry by Dec. 30, 2022. Prior to submitting an application, all grant seekers are strongly encouraged to view the recording of the Grantseekers Forum to learn about the SDWF Grant Guidelines and LOI process.

Are you as passionate about uplifting the San Diego community as we are? Become an SDWF member!

About the San Diego Women’s Foundation

The San Diego Women’s Foundation connects, educates and inspires women to come together in collective philanthropy. Inspired by an idea, a small group of San Diego volunteers recognized changing patterns in women’s giving and envisioned an organization that would promote the leadership of women in philanthropy. Founded in 2000 as a supporting organization of San Diego Foundation, SDWF has grown to an organization of more than 210 members. Since its founding, San Diego Women’s Foundation has granted $4 million through 109 grants that have helped more than 88,000 San Diegans to date. Learn more at