Seattle closing doors of opportunity by charging tuition for kindergarten

A good education is the key to a shot at the American Dream. So it’s puzzling to see the Seattle School Board pulling the rug out from under hundreds of school-kids by raising tuition for full-day kindergarten by 15% (to $2,720 per year) – on the heels of an even-steeper 31% increase last year.

Even though full-day K has a wide range of demonstrable benefits for students, families, and society, the Seattle School Board is planning to completely phase out public support for full day kindergarten due to ever-growing budget shortfalls. “I don’t understand it. It’s supposed to be public school,” said a local parent when they heard of the plan.

When we invest in our kids, we invest in our future – and full-day K has demonstrable payoffs. Children in full-day K test better in reading and math than half-day K students. Full-day K students are better prepared socially and emotionally for 1st grade. It saves money for schools by reducing the need for remedial classes or holding students back. And it saves families money on childcare expenses.

To be fair, Seattle schools aren’t alone in taking this step; a number of suburban schools charge $3,000 or more per year for full-day K. But it doesn’t have to be this way – especially if we take back Washington’s tax code from the special interests that have managed to carve it up with loopholes and exemptions that cost billions of dollars.

If we did that, instead of cutting opportunities for our kids we could follow the example of a country like Finland, which has one of the highest-rated education systems in the world. In Finland, parents are seen as the best teachers for their children, and the country recognizes parents need some support – financial security, family leave, and high quality childcare – to fulfill that role.

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That approach is a win-win-win – for kids, for parents, and for the Finnish economy. In the first three years of their children’s lives, two thirds of Finnish mothers are able to stay home with their kids, compared to 40% of American mothers. However, 75% of Finnish mothers whose kids are 3-5 years old return to work, compared to only 60% of American mothers.

Finnish businesses, for their part, don’t just accept this system – they’ve found it’s a valuable way to boost worker morale and retention. Perhaps more importantly, they see it as an investment in their future workforce.

Funding our education system is crucial to to creating economic opportunity and a strong economy. If we’re going to ensure American kids get the opportunity to learn in school and succeed in life, we’ll have to stop special interests from rigging our state tax code to put personal profit ahead of the greater good.

The time to act is now.  The gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students has grown 40% since the 1960s. A more recent study shows the difference in college completion between the affluent and poor has grown by about 50% since the late 1980s.

Our representatives in Olympia should be prioritizing education – not defunding it. Education is the great equalizer, and we need to fund it properly in order to give our children the training and skills they need for the 21st century economy.

~ by Pete Stewart, EOI intern

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