As the federal preschool initiative largely stalls, for now, Seattle is quietly making progress towards city-wide preschool and a higher profile for early learning, proof that much of true early education reform is happening locally.
In recent weeks, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray rolled out his budget plan – he unveiled his official fiscal plan Monday – and early learning won top billing in key areas. Murray’s two-year budget, for example, proposes $500,000 for his voluntary preschool program, Step Ahead, and other early education work, according to KUOW Seattle, the National Public Radio affiliate.
This funding proposal came 20 days after the mayor announced plans to create a cabinet-level agency, the Department of Education and Early Learning (DEEL), which would consolidate work from the city’s Human Services Department, Office for Education and elsewhere. As important as the new agency’s profile would be, its consolidation and coordination of early learning and K-12 would be perhaps more important.
One of the ideas behind the agency is to support a coordinated education system that spans birth through college, and Murray moved on it after the Seattle City Council encouraged him to increase focus on education last fall, according to the Mayor’s Office.
This coordination holds one of the keys to real education reform because, in this move, Murray embraces the new vision of education that encompasses early learning, preschool and K-12 education.
“ … (W)e must do better to align resources for better outcomes for education,” Murray said in a statement. “We will sharpen our focus on achieving great outcomes for all, so that none of Seattle’s students are left behind. We want Seattle to be the first city in America that eliminates the achievement gap.”
This fall, the focus will shift to Seattle voters, who will decide whether to approve one of two competing preschool measures. Mayor Murray’s $58 million plan would expand access to high-quality preschool around the city. A competing measure would increase pay and improve training and professional development for early learning professionals, according a story by NPR affiliate KPLU.
Supporters are optimistic about the chances for the mayor’s preschool plan. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, early learning is positioned to remain a top issue during the mayor’s time in office.