Washington Gov. Jay Inslee made an ambitious commitment to early learning this week, proposing a two-year $156.3 million budget that would invest in home visiting, a quality ratings system for licensed child care, and the state’s preschool program — and maintaining the state’s position as a national leader in early education.
Gov. Inslee is calling for a $70.5 million investment in the state’s quality rating and improvement system (QRIS), Early Achievers, which is currently funded by federal dollars in the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant. As important as the amount, is that the governor understands it’s not enough to simply expand preschool and child care. Improving quality within that infrastructure is critical.
The governor, though, also wants to expand that infrastructure by adding another 6,358 spots in the state’s preschool system, the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). It is more than some supporters hoped and keeps the program on track to cover all eligible families across the state by 2018-19. Another $4 million will help pay for early intervention services, such as physical and speech therapy. And $2 million will help expand the state’s innovative work in home visiting, which supports increased school readiness and decreased child abuse and neglect.
The budget is a sign that Gov. Inslee and Washington’s first lady Trudi Inslee, a Thrive by Five Washington board member, are committed to increasing the bipartisan momentum for early learning and maintaining the gains the state made over the last nine years — even during a legislative session already packed with education issues. If the governor’s budget is fully funded, it would be “the largest-ever [Washington] state investment in early learning,” according to the governor’s office.
The Inslees’ commitment could be critical because legislators will have to respond to a recent State Supreme Court order that they make a sizeable investment in public education under the landmark McCleary v. State decision. That decision held that Washington is underfunding public education by billions of dollars, according to The Seattle Times.
“We are thrilled that the Governor has proposed a substantial and thoughtful investment in early learning, and has identified it as an essential piece of the education continuum. His proposal is strongly aligned to our vision for early learning in Washington state,” Rivka Burstein-Stern, Thrive policy manager, wrote in an email.
The budget plan also gathers onto the national early learning snowball, which increased in size and speed last week at the White House Summit on Early Education. At the Summit, President Barack Obama unveiled a package of $1 billion in public and private investments in early learning.
This is only the beginning of the debate in Washington state, however. Tomorrow, Gov. Inslee will explain how he would pay for new spending on home visiting, QRIS, preschool and the rest of his budget. Then the state Legislature has to debate and determine a final budget, which may or may not include all of his ideas.