UW News

March 16, 2023

$43 million set of gifts from Ballmer Group to bolster early learning programs in Washington state

UW News

teacher with students

Fueling a pipeline of early childhood educators in Washington state, Ballmer Group is investing $43 million in the UW College of Education and other partners.Cultivate Learning/University of Washington


Ballmer Group commits $38 million anchor gift to University of Washington aligned with additional $5 million for early childhood workforce advocacy and programs to foster leaders of color in the field

The University of Washington today announced that it is part of a multi-pronged grantmaking strategy from Ballmer Group aimed at drawing more people into careers in early childhood education in our state — including by providing more than 1,500 scholarships over the next eight years.

Ballmer Group is providing a set of gifts totaling more than $43 million to fund scholarships, leadership development and advocacy across multiple organizations, reducing the financial barriers that prevent talent from entering the early childhood workforce. The gifts ensure Washington can successfully implement the Fair Start for Kids Act and build racially diverse leadership in the broader policy field.

The strategy includes a $38 million anchor gift to the UW College of Education; $1.65 million to Pathwaves WA, an organization that works to elevate diverse leadership across the early childhood policy field; and $4 million to Child Care Aware of Washington to lead advocacy efforts aimed at improving compensation, well-being and professional development opportunities that improve recruitment, retention and workforce quality.

The grants to UW include support for more than 1,500 scholarships over the next eight years for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and high school internships in early childhood education. These cost-of-attendance scholarships cover tuition and other expenses. The support aims to reduce or remove financial barriers for students pursuing careers in early childhood education while attracting a more diverse workforce to the field. Studies show that diversity among teachers results in better outcomes for all students, and especially those from historically marginalized communities.

“The evidence is clear that early childhood education is a key factor in improving lifelong prospects, health and well-being,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce. “We are deeply grateful for Ballmer Group’s visionary investment in training the skilled, dedicated early childhood educators whose work makes a lifetime of positive impact for children, families and communities.”

Removing barriers to attaining degrees in early childhood education will help address the shortage of credentialed teachers, coaches and other early childhood professionals in the state. Too often, a student’s financial hardship prevents them from earning degrees; and these Ballmer Group gifts will help more than 1,200 students attain degrees without going into debt.

“Research shows that a child’s earliest years are the most important period of development in their life, yet early childhood education is among the lowest-paid careers in the United States. That dynamic does not make sense if we want the best for our kids and the great people who care for them,” said Connie Ballmer, Ballmer Group co-founder. “Our approach with these investments is to tackle the challenges facing the early childhood workforce on multiple fronts: through the direct development of diverse talent at the UW, the increased representation of BIPOC policy leaders via Pathwaves, and important state-level advocacy for policy and public investment into the early childhood workforce via Child Care Aware.”

Steve and Connie Ballmer have a history of giving catalytic gifts to the UW that are focused on improved health and well-being. In 2021, they gave a $38 million landmark gift to UW School of Social Work and UW Medicine that aims to increase the pipeline of well-trained professionals in behavioral health across Washington state via student scholarships and specialized program support. Other gifts have supported UW Medicine’s COVID-19 response efforts; the creation of the Excellence in Social Impact Endowed Scholarship Fund for undergraduate and graduate students in the UW School of Social Work; as well as gifts to support the provost, the UW School of Public Health and more.

head shot of a woman

UW College of Education Dean Mia TuanCaleb Albright/University of Washington

“Without intentional work to remove barriers for students and professionals of color, the workforce will lose valuable racial diversity in the field,” said Mia Tuan, dean of the UW College of Education. “The early childhood field has a historically underpaid workforce, contributing to racial and gender inequity in economic mobility for the people tasked with the healthy development of children in a critical period of growth and for the working families that rely on child care to maintain their own employment. These gifts help us to begin to make systemic changes.”

More work is required to increase the number of people entering early childhood education and bolster the number of people of color teaching in the field. The Washington legislature can this session continue investments in the Fair Start for Kids Act by increasing reimbursement rates for licensed child care programs. At the same time, officials in Washington are working to establish an affordable child care system that anchors how child care is funded to the true costs of care, including living wages and benefits. An analysis of compensation for early childhood education careers in Washington demonstrates the need to increase wages to achieve parity with other teaching professions.

“Access to child care is fundamentally tied to a thriving workforce and benefits healthy child development and family economic security,” said Deeann Burtch Puffert, CEO of Child Care Aware of Washington. “This investment in the early childhood education workforce can finally move the needle toward improving child care workforce compensation and provide professional development opportunities that improve recruitment, retention and quality.”

“Communities of color are historically the communities most impacted by policy decisions, yet policy leaders often lack direct connection, understanding and accountability to those communities,” said LaToya Holmes-Ware, co-executive director of Pathwaves WA. “This investment in Pathwaves’ model of elevating collective, racially diverse leadership is a critical component of long-term system change for early childhood in Washington.”

Additionally, the UW will leverage existing relationships with Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle Promise program to provide an early pathway entry for students from communities that traditionally are excluded from higher education to the profession and provide much-needed additional capacity to early childhood education programs.

The gifts from Ballmer Group to the University of Washington specifically include:

  • 80 high school internships (10 per year) connected to My Brother’s Teacher at Cultivate Learning, a program in the Seattle Public Schools focused on increasing the number of male Black and brown early childhood education teachers.
  • 1,200 undergraduate scholarships serving at least 600 students in the final two years of their college careers. Creating opportunities for bachelor’s degrees will help Washington meet current and impending supply needs and mitigate loss of teachers of color from the field.
  • 115 scholarships for a Master’s in Early Childhood Education Policy, part of UW’s new Center for Early Childhood Policy and Equity. The UW already is working with four other institutions as part of the Early Childhood Policy in Institutions of Higher Education (ECPIHE) Initiative.
  • 230 Early Childhood Coaching Certificate scholarships. Increasing the number of coaches in early childhood education is part of a quality improvement effort in Washington state. The coaching certificate creates a professional pathway to higher compensation and adds needed workforce.
  • Additional funding will help support alignment from early learning into K-12 systems, two endowed doctoral fellowships, two endowed professorships and a full-time staff person to focus on recruiting and retaining students of color.

“We still have a need for well-trained, racially diverse early childhood professionals for positive outcomes for children growing up now,” Tuan said. “Funding scholarships thanks to Ballmer Group will remove barriers to accessing postsecondary education and remove potential debt people accrue if pursuing this path, which can be a significant deterrent to entry, particularly for students of color.”