"If you take all the vast human potential and the vast inequities endemic to the K-12 education system and magnify them, you have the stuff of the early childhood education beat,” journalist Sarah Carr recently wrote in The Hechinger Report’s

Early Learning newsletter


Sarah was reflecting on her time reporting on early childhood education (ECE) topics, but these words rang especially true for our work in the US at Imaginable Futures.

We know that 90% of the brain develops before the age of 5, setting the foundation of a person’s life – particularly their relationships to others and to learning – before they even reach formal schooling. As a country that historically—and still—sees early childhood development and caregiving as a private family matter, US public investment in the early years is shamefully miniscule. Compared with other OECD countries, the US spends 28 times less on our youngest learners, with children of color and those with lower income backgrounds getting an even smaller slice.

In this vast space between inequity and human potential, there are solutions – ones that are equitable, reflect the communities they serve, and can be sustained over the long term. But too few of us have access to the information that we need to advance a better way forward on ECE. We believe more early childhood education journalism could help fill these information gaps, but just 1% of education journalists focus specifically on the early years.

Despite the high stakes of early childhood, drastically shrinking budgets have forced media outlets to make tough choices about where to focus their coverage, particularly at the local level. With significant public investment in K-12 and the regional economic significance of postsecondary education, it’s unfortunate that early education coverage gets deprioritized. Outlets can also raise additional revenue from advertising products, services, or job listings marketed to K-12 teachers and administrators or postsecondary institutions, but this revenue stream in the early childhood market is small-to-nonexistent.

In this way, the lack of resources and attention for early education journalism mirrors the experience of the early education system as a whole. Covering learning and education in the early years simply doesn’t make economic sense – and we all get shortchanged as a result.

That’s where philanthropic investments can play a meaningful role in closing the ECE coverage gap, which can help advance efforts to transform the early childhood education system. Over the last three years, Imaginable Futures has steadily increased its investment in education journalism, including investments in the early childhood coverage of The Hechinger Report and EdSurge.

In this way, the lack of resources and attention for early education journalism mirrors the experience of the early education system as a whole.
Here are three ways we’ve seen sustained, dedicated support for early childhood journalism help to create the conditions for equitable change:

  1. Deepening public understanding of the systemic forces that hinder progress. Early childhood education in the US is a fragmented patchwork of mostly private options. Serving as the public’s guide, ECE journalists can help communities gain a deeper understanding of how early childhood inequities affect their lives and navigate the complexities of finding a way forward. Stable investment in early childhood coverage allows journalists to develop expertise and build trust with new sources, as seen in The Hechinger Report’s thoughtful coverage of social emotional learning and racial inequities in accessing early intervention services like speech therapy. Cultivating this depth of expertise also helps connect the dots on the big forces putting pressure on our education systems. Hechinger’s coverage of how overturning Roe v. Wade will affect the youngest learners and student parents was nominated for an Education Writers Award, with judges noting: “Their work covered topics the mainstream media outlets gave short shrift. Bravo. Well done.”
  2. Elevating solutions that reflect lived expertise of providers, parents and students. We know that not all solutions are created equal - or equitably. Ensuring that the ideas that catch fire are sparked by those with the most at stake is crucial for realizing just, sustainable systems change. Our US ECE portfolio aims to lean into this approach, from researchers of color, who are working to develop a more robust and equity-driven evidence base in ECE, to the advocates, providers and organizers who champion their communities’ power to make change. Journalists have the ability to make more people aware of the potentially transformative ECE solutions that do indeed exist. To do this work well requires time, talent and resources, but it pays off. Over the last year, EdSurge’s coverage of home-based care providers – from the potential for direct cash assistance to the housing challenges affecting providers' ability to provide care to their communities – grew from trusting relationships established with providers who trusted reporter Emily Tate Sullivan with their story. This careful, equity-centered reporting is increasingly reaching broader audiences beyond education policy insiders, with EdSurge’s coverage of early learning solutions co-published in USA Today, Associated Press, and The 19th.
  3. Holding decision-makers accountable for their actions – and inaction. Earlier this year, Alabama’s Secretary of Early Education resigned under pressure for sharing a well-regarded resource from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) on Developmentally Appropriate Practice for early childhood educators. Since then, we’ve seen more troubling examples that the intense debates over race and gender equity in K-12 education is trickling down into early learning environments, including recent attempts to ban diverse picture books. Focused media attention, like The Hechinger Report’s coverage on Alabama, reminds those in power that someone is paying attention, providing accountability and alternative viewpoints. Sometimes journalists can hold those in power accountable for what they don’t do: Looking beyond IF’s portfolio, a recent piece from The 19th’s Chabeli Carranza asked every member of Congress for their stance on child care. The silence was deafening.


Investments in early childhood journalism don’t just benefit reporters; most importantly, a well-resourced early childhood beat provides communities of parents, providers, and children with information that is relevant to their lives so that they can advocate for solutions that meet their needs.

The good news is that there are signs of change. In addition to dedicated coverage from EdSurge and The Hechinger Report, The Los Angeles Times garnered a lot of attention in 2022 for being among the few print dailies to invest in early childhood coverage, while local outlets like MPR, Chalkbeat Colorado, and EdNC are bringing this coverage closer to home. One of the earliest early childhood education beat reporters, Deepa Fernandez now co-hosts nationally syndicated radio program Here & Now, where in-depth stories on early childhood are broadcast on NPR stations across the country.

Covering the vast expanse between the human potential and the inequitable reality of early childhood education requires much more investment, particularly from philanthropic organizations. What we gain in return – well-informed, engaged communities that feel confident in advocating for the solutions that serve their youngest learners – more than pays off for generations to come.

We believe more early childhood education journalism could help fill these information gaps, but just 1% of education journalists focus specifically on the early years.