Everett Community College’s Early Learning Center, a pre-kindergarten school that focuses on children and families with low incomes, will remain open after an agreement between the college and Snohomish County. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Everett Community College’s Early Learning Center, a pre-kindergarten school that focuses on children and families with low incomes, will remain open after an agreement between the college and Snohomish County. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

County and EvCC have deal to keep preschool open next year

Snohomish County will devote $140,000 in federal money, along with $60,000 from another fund, to save the Early Learning Center.

EVERETT — After months of uncertainty, Everett Community College confirmed an award-winning preschool will stay open next year.

The college and Snohomish County announced Tuesday they have an agreement to fund the Early Learning Center through next year. The preschool has served families with low incomes for decades.

Snohomish County will use $200,000 to cover a budget gap for the program.

Dani Michel was happy to hear the preschool would stay open. Her 4-year-old daughter goes there while she studies at the college.

“I remained hopeful, praying that this would happen,” said Michel, 37. “There was nothing out there like this.”

Everett Community College interim President Darrell Cain and county Executive Dave Somers plan to work to keep it open in the following years, as well, according to a news release.

“We are grateful for Snohomish County’s investment in our youngest learners and for the county’s ongoing support for our outstanding Early Learning Center staff,” Cain said in the news release. He started his interim leadership role at EvCC on Feb. 28.

The Early Learning Center serves children from birth to 5 years old. College students and employees can use it, as well as the public. The county contracts the center to provide state-funded Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program for families with low incomes.

It’s also one of only 10 Early ECEAP pilot sites for children from birth to age 3 and their families across the state.

In November, college administrators announced their intent to close the preschool in operation since 1990 and find an outside agency to run a similar program or daycare there.

The Early Learning Center’s ECEAP contracts from the county and the state Department of Children, Youth and Families are worth over $1.4 million annually.

College leaders said the preschool has operated $700,000 in the red over the past five years, even though it’s licensed to serve more than twice the number of children who enrolled last year.

But two former learning center directors disputed that number as an accounting change. They said the annual amounts were equal to that of the director’s position and half of an administrative assistant, which previously came from the college’s budget, not the Early Learning Center’s.

Families, faculty and staff rallied against the closure. The school’s Board of Trustees and former president later walked back those plans after city, county and state lawmakers said they would work to find funding for the program.

But as recently as last month, the Early Learning Center’s future was uncertain, even after emails revealed the county identified and offered hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential funding over the next decade.

Now those details are more settled.

Snohomish County intends to use $140,000 of its federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for the program next school year. The Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account — Sound Transit-related funds dedicated to education — will cover another $60,000.

“Getting people back to work is a key goal of our economic recovery efforts and ensuring families have access to quality child care with early learning is critical to this mission,” Somers said in the news release.

The Early Learning Center had 45 children from 40 families enrolled in November. It is licensed for up to 120 and typically enrolls around 100 children.

Michel and her daughter represent one of the families who benefited from the center.

“It has had a huge effect,” Michel said. “Before she was just at home with me or my mom, and we were trying to handle school, and it was not working.”

Initially, Michel said her daughter was not talkative and instead hummed a lot. After the first week, “she was having full-on conversations with me,” Michel said. The center’s educators also taught her daughter behavioral regulation and ways to calm herself down — advice she has brought home to her mom.

“When I have a stressed-out moment, they taught her how to breathe so she’ll come over and tell me how to breathe and calm down,” Michel said.

After hearing about the initial plan to close the program, Michel didn’t look for another preschool. She hoped it wouldn’t happen so she could keep her daughter enrolled in the school where she likes her teachers and friends.

“They’re an awesome group of people,” Michel said. “It’s a really neat experience where you end up being friends — they’re your advocate.”

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

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