By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
SEATTLE — A top budget writer for the state House of Representatives said Tuesday he isn’t worried about the multi-million dollar cost of a new push for high quality preschool.
Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said the idea has universal support in Olympia, and even if $10 million is needed to pull it off, those dollars will be found.
The Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee was joined by the Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee and education advocates from both houses of the Legislature in announcing the early learning expansion.
Hunter and Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, want to get more poor kids into high quality preschool because they say that’s the only kind of early learning that closes the achievement gap between rich and poor children, improves high school graduation rates and leads more kids to college.
“Low quality care is actually bad for children. It’s not less good. It’s bad for children,” Hunter said.
The proposed Early Start Act of 2014 would offer financial incentives, and intensive mentoring and training for preschool teachers that care for as many as 50,000 children whose parents are trying to work their way off welfare.
The state already has a framework for improving early learning and a federal “Race to the Top” grant to support scaling that work to more preschools.
This effort would dramatically increase the number of children reached by turning a welfare program called Working Connections into an educational program under the Department of Early Learning.
The proposal also calls for giving quality programs financial incentives to expand and offer longer days for the kids who would benefit the most.
Both Hunter and Litzow credited Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, for inspiring them to learn more about early learning and leading the Legislature into every other early learning initiative of the past decade.
Litzow said Washington public schools seems to be doing just fine for middle class white and Asian kids, but the K-12 system is failing black, Hispanic and Native American children.
“If they’re not ready to learn when they walk into kindergarten, the K-12 system doesn’t matter,” Litzow said.