Today the Senate made early learning programs for disadvantaged kids part of the definition of basic education.
What does that mean? Well, for starters, it means the state's program for low-income preschoolers, the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), will eventually be funded on a per pupil basis--just like K-12.
Right now, there are more than 2,600 qualified kids on the waiting list for the program. When the law is fully implemented, they should all have ECEAP seats if they want them.
The Early Learning Action Alliance (of which the Children's Alliance is a member) has been working to get these preschool programs included in the definition of basic education because we believe that if we're going to give all kids a real shot at succeeding in school we have to start before kindergarten. Right now, far too many children aren’t ready for kindergarten, and catching up is extraordinarily difficult.
Today, a majority of state Senators agreed. The chamber passed House Bill 2261, which includes a section that states lawmakers' intent to put early learning programs for disadvantaged children into the definition of basic education in Washington State. This means that providing early learning programs for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds becomes part of the state’s “paramount duty” under the constitution and future legislators will have to give them the funding they need.
The basic education bill goes back to the House. That chamber already passed a similar version of the bill, with representatives Pat Sullivan and Skip Priest championing inclusion of early learning.
Jon Gould, deputy director of the Children’s Alliance, had this to say about today’s vote:
“We applaud the Senate for their historic vote today modernizing the definition of basic education. By including early learning in the definition of basic education Senators recognized that smart investments in early learning yield positive returns for families and communities across Washington State. If we want all children to have the opportunity to succeed in school, we must start before they walk into kindergarten. In these tough times, this farsighted policy puts early childhood education on a strong footing to contribute to the educational success of students across the state.”
Read more about the Early Learning Action Alliance’s position on the issue here.