In Washington’s upcoming legislative session, quality will be a dominant theme in debates about early learning, quality in preschool, child care, and – perhaps most important – rating systems.
The state’s burgeoning rating system, Early Achievers, is at a critical stage. Today, more than 2,200 of the 7,000 providers around the state are enrolled in the system. And it is reaching a critical population: low-income families, with nearly half of children receiving child care subsidies at Early Achievers-enrolled programs, according to Gail Joseph, an associate professor at the University of Washington, who works with the program.
The problem is that critical funding for Early Achievers is split between the federal Child Care and Development Grant and the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant, which runs out next December.
“Early Achievers is sort of in the toddler stage, (and) statewide implementation participating rates are very high,” said Juliet Morrison, assistant director for quality practice and professional growth at the Department of Early Learning. “This is the session when we need to ask for that sustainability.”
They will ask for that sustainability during a legislative session packed with education issues. Legislators must respond by approving a new funding plan, in response to the latest court order in the landmark McCleary v. State decision, which held Washington is underfunding public education by billions of dollars, the Seattle Times reported.
A core group of lawmakers is already saying that early learning must be part of that debate, in part because piles of research show investments from birth through pre-kindergarten save money in K-12 by preparing more children for school and reducing their need for support, such as remedial education.
Early Achievers is far from the only early education policy that should be debated during the upcoming legislative session that begins early next year. Hopefully, they will work on creating effective continuums from early learning through third grade, including improving programs in the critical birth-to-age-3 period, and focus on racial equity in early learning systems.
We will explore these issues in future stories.