Federal dollars help state spend more on preschool

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Thanks to some help from the federal government, Washington is providing more state-subsidized preschool this fall, making early education one of the few places the state budget is increasing this year.

A total of 165 additional preschool lots are available this fall in the state Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, The Columbian reported in its Monday newspaper. They are being paid for with a $2.2 million increase in dollars from the federal Child Care & Development Fund for the next two school years.

“That really is a pretty significant thing, because almost everything in the state budget except ECEAP was cut or kept at level funding,” said Doug Lehrman, executive director of Educational Opportunities for Children and Families, which will serve 365 children this fall. That agency is one of two in Clark County that provide preschool through the state program.

An additional 36 children from low-income families in Southwest Washington will be able to attend state-subsidized preschool thanks to the increase in federal dollars.

But even with the increase, only about 25 percent of eligible children in the state have places in subsidized preschool programs, Lehrman said.

The state preschool program is similar to the federal Head Start subsidized preschool program, but offers fewer hours each session. It also serves families with a slightly higher income — about $24,585 for a family of four.

Children typically learn their numbers and letters in the program, and some can read before they enter kindergarten, Lehrman said, adding that those who have been in the program perform better in school and are less likely to drop out.

Vancouver’s state Rep. Tim Probst, vice-chair of the Legislature’s Education Appropriation and Oversight Committee, said it was important to him to support the state preschool program because early learning is an investment that has been shown to work.

“It’s time-sensitive,” Probst said. “A child doesn’t get age 3 and 4 back, and the development that occurs at that moment is vital to their success in school and later in life. It has ripple effects. The positive impacts of early learning continue throughout the K-12 system and further.”

People should not underestimate how crucial the age 0-5 period is, said Debbie Ham, director of Vancouver’s Support for Early Learning & Families.

“We know that within the first five years of life as much as 90 percent of brain development has occurred,” Ham said. “Our children can’t wait for adequate funding. We need to act now and support the whole child, the whole family and early learning.”

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