Invest in kids’ early education

You don’t have to be smarter than a fifth-grader to accept that the mandate that the state fully fund basic education should not only include students in kindergarten through high school but also those ages birth to 5, where the foundation for all education begins.

“If you look at the research, less than half of students entering kindergarten arrive with the skills necessary to succeed,” said Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Shoreline.

Yes, we’re talking about pretty basic stuff: how to behave in a classroom setting, how to listen and play together, how to hold a book and draw a picture. But the learning that goes on in pre-school and other early learning settings, including day cares, helps set kids up for success in kindergarten and beyond.

The Legislature faces education funding issues on two fronts this January. It must find the funding to satisfy the McCleary mandate, the state Supreme Court decision that found the state wasn’t fulfilling its “paramount duty” to amply fund basic education. At the same time it will have to address whether to fund or find a way to suspend or amend Initiative 1351, which has passed with about 51 percent approval and would mandate the hiring of teachers and others to lower class sizes. Estimates vary, but funding McCleary could cost the state $2 billion to $3 billion in the 2015-17 budget, while I-1351 could tack on another $3 billion to $4 billion.

Somewhere in all that Kagi is hoping her fellow legislators can find about $200 million to expand the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program in the state and establish and fund a program called Early Start that Kagi plans to introduce again this coming session. Early Start would provide support and assistance for certified child care centers and early education programs, including professional development, scholarships, incentive grants and a voluntary assessment and rating system that would help parents choose an early education program for their children.

That $200 million is a drop in the bucket compared with the larger education funding issues, but it’s not hard to imagine it being left behind as lawmakers tackle the bigger issues.

Kagi was able to get an Early Start bill, HB 2377, through the House this year with nearly 2-to-1 support, but the bill never got past the Senate’s House Rules Committee.

The Legislature has shown support in the past for early childhood education. Legislation was adopted several years ago that will provide pre-school by 2018 for all children whose families are at or below 110 percent of the federal poverty level.

With the state rightly required to spend billions to fulfill its paramount duty to provide basic education, building it on a foundation of early education can only be considered a smart investment.

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