Universal pre-kindergarten in Washington State?

Across the country, people are waking up to the fact that investments in universal early education pay off. Will Washington State make a commitment to giving its kids a similarly strong start in the upcoming legislative session? The short answer is: maybe.

Before we get to the longer answer, a quick look at recent developments in early learning:

Oklahoma has had state-funded pre-kindergarten in place for 18 years, and offered it universally for nearly a decade. More than two-thirds of Oklahoma 4-year-olds are enrolled – the highest rate in the country. It’s proven to make a difference. According to USA Today:

Pre-kindergarten…in Oklahoma boosts kids’ skills dramatically, a long-awaited study finds, for the first time offering across-the-board evidence that universal preschool, open to all children, benefits both low-income and middle-class kids.

Meanwhile, the “other Washington” isn’t waiting around for more studies:

Last month, the District of Columbia Council took an important step towards making universal pre-k a reality in the District by passing Pre-Kindergarten Expansion and Enhancement Act. This new, comprehensive legislation seeks to provide pre-k to every 3- and 4- year old in the District whose parents want it by 2014. (from Early Ed Watch)

So what about Washington State? Will our state’s leaders promote high-quality, affordable, early childhood education for every child?

A state task force is currently debating whether to include early education in the definition of a “basic education”. It’s said they will deliver not just a report, but actual legislation, for policymakers to consider when they report to Olympia in January.

A broad coalition of community organizations, child care providers, physicians and others has been bending the the task force’s collective ear, most recently by issuing a statement that read in part:

We agree upon the following principles…

  1. Early learning has both a constitutional and a legislative foundation for inclusion in an updated definition of Basic Education.
  2. Extensive research confirms that high quality early learning experiences benefit children, and offer a significant return on investment of state dollars.
  3. We agree on where this work should begin: a) Immediate targeted early interventions for children deemed at risk of school failure; b) A commitment over time to ensure that all children are “school ready.”
  4. Quality early education should continue to be provided through a mixed delivery system which draws on the strengths of families as well as services provided in a variety of settings.

I imagine those parents who are having to participate in a lottery to get coveted spots in some school district’s pre-k programs would like very much for the state to make early learning a seamless part of our education system.

Ditto those business leaders who have been thinking for a long time about how to create a high-quality workforce in the years ahead.

But will we pony up the dollars needed for it?

  • Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More To Read

March 24, 2023

Women’s Labor is Women’s History 

To understand women's history, we must learn the role of women - and especially women of color - in the labor movement 

March 24, 2023

Victory! Washington Takes a Critical Step Towards Balancing our Tax Code

Washington state supreme court upholds the capital gains tax

February 15, 2023

Podcast: Getting to Lower Health Care Costs in Washington

EOI's Sam Hatzenbeler joins Washington's Indivisible Podcast to discuss our state's health care costs crisis and what the legislature can do to solve it