It was clear from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — as many workplaces closed and stay-at-home orders went into effect — that early learning providers would be at risk. In a survey conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children in March 2020, 30% of providers nationwide said they would not survive a closure of more than two weeks without significant public support and investment; another 17% said they wouldn’t survive a closure of any length of time.*

For an industry that operates on thin margins during normal times, this was troubling — for child care programs, for the families and employers that depend on them, and for the young children whose development is shaped by the care and education they receive.

In D.C., some providers closed completely, while others scaled back but remained open to serve essential workers. But all felt the financial strain — a combination of lost revenue and new costs — and the challenge of adapting to new safety and sanitation requirements. Adding to the problem, most providers (who in the District are primarily women of color) were not successful in securing pandemic relief funds available locally and nationally to cover routine expenses such as rent, utilities and payroll.

Cynthia Davis, President of the D.C. Family Child Care Association (DCFCCA), saw attendance at her extended child care home drop from seven children to one, even as she stayed open. She recalls, “Everything was up in the air. We were worried about how to sustain ourselves and how to handle COVID-19. We couldn’t find disinfectant sprays and wipes or masks. We were receiving guidance on changes both locally and nationally and had to sort it out.”

Early learning providers in the District of Columbia — including Cynthia Davis (top photo), owner of Kings & Queens Childcare Center — have been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and were the focus of the D.C. Child Care Reopening Fund.

As Ms. Davis dipped into savings to keep her program operating, she incurred many expenses related to safety and social distancing. One of her solutions was to buy multiple sets of toys and put them in color-coded bins so each child had their own set. And she divided her space with partitions to give children separate play areas — a step that proved difficult for other home providers due to space limitations in their homes.

Our Early Learning team saw this scene unfolding and reached out to partners that represent early learning professionals — the District of Columbia Association for the Education of Young Children (DCAEYC) and DCFCCA, which Ms. Davis leads. Together, we created the D.C. Child Care Reopening Fund, a comprehensive solution designed to give providers what they identified as needing most — cash assistance, technical assistance as they enact the new guidelines, and access to personal protective equipment and other safety and sanitation supplies.

We engaged Mary’s Center — a respected local nonprofit with strong ties to the early learning community, and home-based providers, in particular — to oversee and administer the program. And we invited four other foundations that invest in early childhood to join us in funding it: the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, the Esther A. & Joseph Klingenstein Fund, the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, and the Richard E. & Nancy P. Marriott Foundation.

The combined $1 million provided by the five foundations is allowing us to provide sustained assistance over four months (September to December 2020) to nearly 120 D.C. early learning programs. Recipients are all small centers or home-based programs because they represent both the greatest demand for care and the greatest need for support. The fund, Ms. Davis says, “couldn’t have come at a better time.”

According to Kathy Hollowell-Makle, Executive Director of DCAEYC, the pandemic has shown how essential early learning programs are to the well-being of our community. “D.C. remains at risk of permanently losing already scarce child care seats,” she says. “This fund has been a lifeline for local providers. But it also highlights the need for better public funding over the long term to ensure that all D.C. children have access to affordable, high-quality care to support their healthy growth and development.”

* Child Care in Crisis: Understanding the Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic,” National Association for the Education of Young Children, March 17, 2020,