Seattle “pay-for-k” a cautionary tale for other states

New America’s Early Ed Watch rounds up progress – and backsliding – in Minneapolis toward universal full-day kindergarten. Seattle Public Schools get a mention as a cautionary tale:

Two-thirds of kindergarteners in the Minneapolis Public Schools are in free full-day kindergarten classes. But in February, the school board there began considering a proposal to charge parents for full-day kindergarten according to a sliding-fee scale (parents pay different fees based on their incomes).

Seattle Public Schools, which also once offered free full-day kindergarten, switched to a sliding-scale “pay-for-k” system in 1998 because of the $1.6 million annual cost. Today it offers just one free all-day class per school.

Full-day K is a smart investment in our future that will promote academic success for our kids and make Washington a more attractive state in which to do business. And yet the availability of full-day K in Washington is woefully limited and funding remains inadequate. (Though some efforts are being made to address that.)

Space for full-day K slots is so limited in some districts that a lottery is used to choose which tots get in. This is really how we want to educate our kids – that is, our future business owners, parents and workers?

If Bill Gates Sr. stood up to exhort business, government and education leaders to make early learning a priority, would they listen? The money to do the right thing by our kids – and ourselves – is out there. We just need the political will to find it.

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