Early learning leads to improved academic performance and higher graduation rates.[i] Last session, bills were introduced that would have phased-in access to affordable, voluntary prekindergarten (HB 2448 and SB 6449). The fiscal note on these bills indicated that the program would eventually cost the state $400-600 million/year. Every $1 spent on early learning produces savings of $4 to $8 dollars from reduced special education costs, decreased prison rates and other societal benefits.
Do you support investing in affordable, voluntary pre-kindergarten for all children in Washington State, and should the state play a role in expanding pre-kindergarten?
You cannot overstate the importance of early learning in ensuring that all students are prepared to succeed in college and career. One of the reasons, I believe, we are one of only nine states where the achievement gap is growing is because we are not fully committed to fully funding early learning. For those students most at risk of falling through the cracks, a high quality early learning system is the difference between success and failure. We need more kids in pre-kindergarten, starting with those most at risk, and we need to fund all-day kindergarten around the state. No child should be denied all-day kindergarten because of their ZIP code. We have to get serious about helping those students who are struggling to catch up and ensuring that others do not fall behind. It is a big task – in 2011, the Department of Early Learning estimated that 19,000 kids were eligible but unserved by ECEAP and Head Start – but together we can do it.
Given what we know today about brain development, thanks in no small part to pioneering work at the UW, we have a better roadmap for how to make early learning programs effective for children. I would prioritize funding for early learning programs in the budget so that kids come into kindergarten prepared and eager to learn. We would start with those kids who are at the highest risk of academic failure. Early learning programs are so influential in reducing the effects of varied demographic and social factors from a young age. All children should be given the opportunity to attend pre-kindergarten regardless of their socioeconomic status.
The evidence is unequivocal: the brain development that occurs in a child’s first five years of life is fundamental to their lifelong ability to reach their highest potential. Early learning opens the door of opportunity for all children, leading to greater earning potential as adults.
According to the Department of Early Learning, every dollar invested in high-quality early learning can return up to $17 in benefits, ranging from lower costs for special education and repeat grades, to lower child welfare and public health costs. Washington is recognized as a national leader in early education, but more needs to be done to reach as many kids as possible.
If we are serious about building a 21st century education system that ensures our children graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in life, then we have to start early. In order for all children to start school as healthy and confident learners, we must build an early learning system that meets the complex and diverse needs of children and families with programs and services that are accessible, affordable and high quality.
I have been a stalwart supporter of early education and I will continue my pursuit of this priority as governor.