Young children playing with a hose outside of school

Children's Investment Fund

Investing in developmentally appropriate indoor/outdoor spaces to spark curiosity and learning.

Well-prepared teachers and engaged students are the hallmarks of a high-quality classroom. But for young learners and their teachers to truly thrive, we also need to consider the classroom itself. The physical space in which children in early childhood education (ECE) and out-of-school time (OST) programs spend most of their time is critical to their health, development, and learning. Adequate ventilation systems, access to indoor and outdoor play spaces, planning space for teachers, and natural light are all important features of a high-quality program. Nonprofit, community-based providers, especially those serving children in low-income neighborhoods, are often located in spaces that are not designed for learning, such as old storefronts and church basements. Often, the conditions in these spaces are not supportive of child development and may even be detrimental to the well-being of children and the educators working with them. While many programs want to upgrade their facilities, chronic underfunding makes it difficult to raise the necessary capital or take on additional debt to do so.

Children’s Investment Fund (the Fund) believes that all children deserve to learn in safe physical environments that help support their healthy development. Founded in 1991, the Fund’s technical assistance, training, and loan financing enables nonprofit ECE and OST programs to create high-quality educational spaces for children. As of 2017, the Fund has supported 558 projects that improved care and learning environments for over 29,000 children, leveraging $90 million in additional public and private investment.

In 2011, the Fund released Building an Infrastructure for Quality, a unique, data-driven assessment of early education and care facility needs across Massachusetts. The study documented several facility challenges in ECE and OST programs, including: 20% of facilities had at least one classroom without exterior windows; 22% had poor indoor air quality; 70% lacked sinks in the classroom, making frequent handwashing difficult; and only one site out of the 182 sampled was fully accessible to children with special needs. The results and recommendations from the report informed policymakers and led to the establishment of the Early Education and Out of School Time (EEOST) Capital Fund, a stable source of public financing to address capital needs across the Commonwealth.

The Fund believes that all children deserve to learn in safe physical environments that help support their healthy development. Through technical assistance, training, and loan financing, programs are supported to create high-quality educational spaces for children.

But access to funding alone is not enough. Technical assistance, training, and financing provided by the Children’s Investment Fund are critical to the success of the State’s EEOST Capital Fund. Through Building Stronger Centers, the Fund’s weeklong, intensive training institute, ECE and OST programs learn about the development process, get access to expert advice, and develop the capacity to move projects from concept to completion.

A Unique Public Policy Achievement

Massachusetts is one of a handful of states in the nation to make capital bond financing available for ECE and OST facilities. The Fund worked with the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, other advocates, providers, and legislators to pass a provision of the State’s 2013 housing bond bill that led to the creation of the EEOST Capital Fund, which provides grants of up to $1 million to programs that improve existing or create new facilities. As a result of the EEOST Capital Fund, children are benefiting from facility improvements such as larger classrooms with access to sinks and bathrooms, indoor gyms, more natural light, and better, more energy efficient heating, cooling, and ventilation. In addition, educators are benefiting from a healthier environment, increased access to adult workspace, and classrooms that make it easier for them to provide an engaging learning environment.

In the first four years of operating the EEOST Capital Fund, over $15 million was awarded to 21 projects across Massachusetts. These 21 projects are collectively increasing the capacity of the ECE and OST system by 448 new slots, improving the quality of learning environments for over 2,000 children, and creating an estimated 34 educator jobs and 360 construction jobs. While funding from the EEOST Capital Fund is significant, it only covers a portion of the full cost of a construction or renovation project. Most programs assemble additional funding from community banks, foundations, individual donors, and federal sources. The 21 projects funded by the Commonwealth’s first $15 million are leveraging nearly triple that amount—$44 million—in additional funds. Many organizations note that the EEOST Capital investment acted as a catalyst for fundraising by demonstrating the State’s commitment to the project.

Sources of capital like the State’s EEOST fund provide stability to a sector that suffers from chronically low funding and support. As one grantee notes, “Ownership has given us a sense of permanence in our community. We are working on long-term strategic planning to assist children and families, rather than thinking in five-year lease terms and often wondering where we would go at lease end. This agency began in the basement of a local church to support low-income parents as they pursued education or career. We are proud to be able to continue this mission in a space equal to private early education centers.”

Explore some of the Fund's transformations of learning spaces with their "Before and After" photographs:

CIF Before and After

Learn more about EEOST below:

Children's Investment Fund helps nonprofit organizations in Massachusetts develop high quality facilities for early learning and youth programs. By investing in high quality early childhood education and out-of-school time (OST) programs, Children's Investment Fund addresses educational disparities faced by children at risk.

Additional Information and Resources

Learn more about the Fund's work to transform educational experiences for young learners.

  1. 1

    Design Guidelines

    In 2016, the Fund worked closely with the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care to create Design Guidelines outlining regulatory standards, quality standards, and best practices for designing developmentally-appropriate space for children. Created to be a tool for organizations applying for EEOST funding, the guidelines are a helpful resource to architects and others working to create high-quality spaces for children.

  2. 2

    Assessing Impact of the EEOST Capital Fund

    With Barr support, in 2016 the Fund commissioned an independent study of the first 16 sites funded by the EEOST program. Researchers are evaluating the impact of facility improvements on organizational stability, program quality, teacher effectiveness, and child well-being in an effort to understand how investing in high-quality early education and care strengthens communities.

  3. 3

    A Growing Network of Early Childhood Learning Facilities Investors

    As cities and states begin to expand Pre-K access for four year olds in particular, Children’s Investment Fund joins a small number of organizations across the country that are equipped to address the facility challenges accompanying this type of expansion. Learn more with the "Building Pre-K" report.