OLYMPIA, Wash. - Two bills awaiting Gov. Gregoire's signature could pave
the way for a more secure future for Washington pre-school education
programs. In passing them, the Washington Legislature has pledged to do a
better job of helping "future voters" by taking a closer look at early
childhood education and providing more money for it when the state's
financial condition improves.
One of the bills guarantees funding at no less than current levels for
the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), which
serves three- and four-year-olds from low-income families.
Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) says he got some criticism for his bill,
HB 2731, which promises to spend state money, but fellow lawmakers
ultimately decided starting kids off early on the path to learning is a
"This is just good for our tax dollar. It's the best return, to make
sure the kids are ready for kindergarten. If they're not ready for
kindergarten, it's rare that they catch up, entirely. We want to make
sure kids graduate, and keep kids out of trouble, and prepare children
for a good job later."
Sen. Claudia Kauffman (D-Kent) sponsored SB 6759, which also awaits the
governor's signature. Her proposal would create a work group to analyze
every type of early learning program now available in the state, with
the goal of making recommendations for quality and funding.
"They all have different requirements, they all have different
expectations - and so, I really wanted to look at what's going on in all
these different areas and come up with a comprehensive plan."
Hannah Lidman, senior policy associate at the Economic Opportunity
Institute, says both bills offer some hope for working parents.
Right now, state-funded pre-school programs are full, yet they serve
only about one-fourth of the kids who qualify for them.
"When you fold in the federal government's Head Start program, you add
another 25-30 percent - but then, we're only serving up to 60-some
percent of the lowest-income children in the state. More than those
children need access to quality care."
The state-funded ECEAP program has a waiting list of more than 3,000