New plan earmarks millions of dollars for pre-K programs

The Snohomish County Council unanimously approved the policy, with a focus on young, vulnerable kids.

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council approved a measure on Wednesday that’s expected to put millions of dollars toward pre-K and other early learning programs over the next decade.

The spending plan, which passed unanimously, specifies how the county will distribute funding from the Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account. The fund is to provide roughly $80 million for local education programs through its lifetime, ending in 2034.

More than 70% of that money will go to early learning, defined as programs serving children from birth to third grade. The plan aims to provide a boost for kids who are poor, homeless, in foster care or otherwise considered vulnerable.

Local colleges will also get some money to spend on students, and several Snohomish County school districts will receive funding for their own pre-K programs.

This is the first county funding source dedicated to early childhood education, Councilman Jared Mead said.

“All the data shows that early learning is by far the best investment that you can make in kids as far as education goes, as far as investing in their future goes,” he said. “I think this is a certainly enough money to see a significant impact in thousands of young people’s lives.”

Funding recipients must provide annual updates to the county about how the money was used and what it accomplished. The County Council also has the flexibility to adjust the allocation formula in future years.

During past council discussions, Mead has cited research showing that children who enter kindergarten unprepared are less likely to graduate on time or go to college. During their lifetimes, they are also more likely to have lower earnings, need state assistance and commit crimes.

And many children in the county are already behind. Forty-four percent of Snohomish County kids, when entering kindergarten, are failing to meet kindergarten standards in at least one of six areas, according to the council member’s research. That’s almost 10% lower than the statewide average of children who start kindergarten without being ready, he’s said.

The PSTAA, created by the Legislature in 2015, is funded by a sales-and-use tax offset fee that Sound Transit pays on construction costs. The money must be spent on education, but local governments have discretion to divvy it among early learning centers, schools and colleges as they see fit.

A plan passed by the council in January 2020 would have split the money equally between local higher education institutions and school districts within Sound Transit’s boundaries. That plan fell by the wayside amid the COVID-19 pandemic, though, and the council decided to revisit the formula this year to include early learning.

Mead originally proposed that all of the county’s PSTAA funding be earmarked for early learning. After hearing from local college officials, school districts and others who play roles in the education system, the council negotiated a plan that would reserve some funding for higher education.

So far, the county has about $935,000 from the account. The county’s 2021 budget, passed last fall, cleared the way for the distribution of $800,000.

Under the new plan, two-thirds of that $800,000 will go to the Edmonds, Everett, Mukilteo, Northshore, Snohomish and Marysville school districts. Those districts will be required to spend their allocations solely on early learning, and at least half of the money they are awarded must be used in subcontracts with community-based providers.

The remaining one-third of the $800,000 will be equally split three ways between Edmonds College, Everett Community College and Washington State University Everett. The colleges will be required to spend 10% of their share on early learning programs.

K-12 schools run the majority of the county’s early learning programs. Edmonds College and EvCC, too, run child care centers.

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

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