Washington state is taking a big step this year towards its goal of offering public preschool to all low-income families by adding 1,350 new chairs in classrooms this fall, and it’s focusing on the most at-risk families.
Since 2010, the state has been expanding the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), and plans to add 10,941 new spots in ECEAP by the 2018-19 school year.
This school year, though, the Department of Early Learning is doing more than adding chairs. It’s addressing one of the bigger challenges in early learning: the web of funding streams that support preschools and child care. For these new slots, the agency will combine ECEAP and Working Connections Child Care subsidy funding at the state level. This will allow preschools to receive a single source of state funding for each student. The agency is also developing one reporting system for standards and monitoring.
The expansion signals a revamped approach for the state preschool program.
“ . . . (T)his first phase of expansion includes implementing a new full-day preschool model, an extended-day model for full-time working families, as well as opportunities for successful applicants to provide input into the development of other future preschool model components such as flexible/portable comprehensive services and curriculum requirements.”
— Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Update, March 2014
But, ECEAP also simply needs to expand. Today, ECEAP and Head Start reach less than 40 percent of eligible families. And ECEAP is clearly focused on serving the poorest families first.
Why? High-quality preschool is even more effective for children living in poverty. The Department of Early Learning is focused on enrolling children living near or below the federal poverty line; it wants ensure these students receive the proper dosage of preschool — six hours a day during the school year — and a minimum of 1,000 hours a year.
“This expansion offers an unprecedented opportunity to ensure quality and improve dosage for the most at-risk children — the two things that research clearly demonstrates have the largest impact on child outcomes.”
— Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Update