While efforts in the Legislature now are rightly focused on ample funding for K-12 public education — with a special session now expected to begin Monday — more attention on the years before kindergarten also is necessary.
The state has advanced programs and offerings for preschool-age children, specifically with the passage of the Early Start Act in 2015, expanding access through Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, and training and licensing of providers through the state’s Department of Early Learning.
But unlike K-12 education, preschool isn’t free for all, and assistance through the federal Head Start and state-supported ECEAP programs is not available for all who are eligible for financial assistance.
Of the estimated 4,500 children, ages 3 to 5, within the Everett School District’s boundaries, only about 10 percent, about 450 children, are served through the federal and state assistance programs, according to school district statistics. Another 900 are believed eligible, meeting the family income standard of 110 percent of the federal poverty level, about $26,700 annually for a family of four.
“That’s not a part of K-12 funding, and as a community we have to figure out how to provide that,” said Chad Golden, director of early learning for the Everett School District.
It’s an investment — one that should be shared at local, state and federal levels — but one that can provide benefits for the child, the family and the community.
Studies are showing that investments in quality preschool programs, specifically those aimed at 3- and 4-year-olds, provide marked improvements later in school and on into adult life.
One study followed more than 1,500 children born in 1979-80 in some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, tracking their progress up to the age of 28. Those who attended preschool with a focus on school readiness, listening skills and math and reading preparation were 24 percent more likely to attend college, according to a 2011 Time magazine report. They also were 28 percent less likely to develop addictions to alcohol or drugs and 22 percent less likely to be arrested for a felony.
Further study by economist Robert G. Lynch, a George Washington University professor, shows a range of benefits to early childhood education, including reduced needs for special education, repeating a grade and child welfare services and more success later in school, including higher graduation and college attendance rates. Once in the workforce, his study found, those who started their education in preschool were more likely to earn more on the job and have the skills employers needed.
Everett School District offered similar statistics from other studies that showed by age 40 those with preschool educations were 18 percent more likely to be employed, 24 percent more likely to own a home, 53 percent less likely to have multiple arrests and earned between 7 percent and 25 percent more than those who were not enrolled in preschool programs.
While preschool can be beneficial for all students, the greatest results are seen among students from low income families. Among Everett’s elementary schools, those schools with the highest numbers of students eligible for free and reduced lunch have lower numbers of children showing readiness for math when they enter kindergarten.
Looking to expand the availability of preschool to those 900 eligible but not currently served, Everett School District is hosting an Early Learning Symposium on Saturday at Evergreen Middle School. Along with several speakers, the district is outlining its plans to work with the community, preschool providers, advocacy groups and parents to expand access.
Among the proposals under consideration are three early learning centers distributed throughout the district and potentially based at its elementary schools. Hawthorne Elementary in Everett’s Delta neighborhood is being considered for renovation that would provide four preschool classrooms, offering morning and afternoon sessions. Other learning centers in the city’s central and southern areas could follow.
The promise of such centers is in providing quality preschool programs that add to the learning already provided by parents but that also offers guidance and assistance to parents.
State lawmakers have to resolve their state Supreme Court mandate to amply fund K-12 education, for the sake of those students, but also because it bears on funding at the state and community level for preschool programs.
Directly, while the Senate’s budget calls for funding that would allow more low-income 4-year-olds to attend preschool, it reduces the slots available to 3-year-olds, delaying entry for many and potentially limiting the outcomes preschool can provide.
More generally, if the state is able to remove much of the burden for paying teacher salaries from local school district levies, that could allow districts to seek voter approval for support of preschool programs.
Recently state lawmakers made the commitment to all-day kindergarten for all schools, recognizing the value that it provides in preparing students for the rest of their schooling and lives.
With the benefits of quality preschool programs becoming even clearer, a similar commitment to younger children is needed.
More on preschool
Everett School District’s Early Learning Symposium is 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Evergreen Middle School, 7621 Beverly Lane, Everett.
The symposium, featuring several speakers, is free. RSVP by email to EarlyLearning@everettsd.org or by calling 425-385-4024.