Washington state made significant progress in building a high-quality early learning system over the past five years. And Republican and Democratic voters overwhelming say they support even more investments, a new poll says.
During the last decade, Washington has invested in a comprehensive early learning strategy, including expanding access to preschool. The percentage of children missing out on preschool fell to 59 percent in 2010-12, down from 62 percent in 2005-07, the Annie E. Casey’s 2014 Kids Count report found. Fewer children also lacked health insurance in 2012 than 2007, 6 percent compared to 8 percent, according to the report released Tuesday.
While these improvements are certainly good news, 91 percent of voters nationally support making child care more affordable – 97 percent of Democrats and 87 percent of Republicans – in a poll released by the First Five Years Fund. Voters voiced similar support for funding high-quality child care programs (83 percent), and creating better and more accessible preschools (85 percent).
In Washington, voters may get what they want. Gov. Jay Inslee and the state legislature expanded state-funded preschool and invested in early learning efforts during the last legislative session, and could push for more funding and improvements next year.
On the national stage, the First Five Years Fund’s poll suggests early education could be a top issue for both parties in this fall’s mid-term elections and on the 2016 presidential campaign trail. In the poll, voters ranked ensuring that children get a good start second only to increasing jobs and economic growth.
“Early childhood education is one of those rare issues that transcend partisanship,” Kevin Madden, senior advisor to Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2012 Republican presidential campaign, said in a statement. “There is a durable consensus of support for early learning, by governors and mayors, as well as law enforcement officials and business leaders, because it has an impact on the communities where these investments are made.”
While Washington improved early learning, more children lived in poverty, 19 percent in 2012, up from 15 percent in 2005, according to the 2014 Kids Count report.
“All kids deserve a great start in life—where they can grow and learn without poverty as a barrier to success,” Remy Trupin, executive director of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, said in a media release. “The KIDS COUNT Data Book is a wake-up call to policymakers at the state and national level. It is absolutely crucial to the future of our state and our economy that we make smart investments in our future.”