Washington’s Preschool Program Scores Well on Quality, Falls Lower on Access

Washington state is improving its public preschool system — it met nine out of ten quality benchmarks in a new national report — though it ranks lower in access to those preschool classrooms.

In the annual State of Preschool, Washington was eighth in state spending; it spent $6,658 per child last year. On access to preschool for 4-year-old students, the state fell to 33rd among states.

Washington’s mixed picture of progress and challenges reflects the state of preschool across the country. Total state funding only rose 1 percent over 2013-14, once it was adjusted for inflation, but that was the second consecutive increase in state spending on preschool, according to the report from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released last week.

There were plenty of bright spots. For the first time in four years, for example, a state that had not funded preschool stepped up, with Mississippi investing $3 million in its new program. Perhaps more important, Mississippi’s new preschool program met every one of the report’s quality benchmarks. Around the country, 17 states expanded enrollment in public preschool.

The report also found areas where states came up short:

  • (T)he vast majority of children served in state-funded pre-K are in programs where funding per child may be inadequate to provide a quality education.
  • More than half a million children, or 40 percent of nationwide enrollment, were served in programs that met fewer than half of the quality standards benchmarks.

“The State of Preschool 2014,” NIEER, May, 2015.

In Washington state, policymakers are working to expand access to their public preschool program, the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). The state house has proposed adding 6,000 ECEAP spots over the next two years, while the Senate budget would add 4,000. The state already plans to add 1,350 spots in 2014-15.

“In the coming years, Washington State Department of Early Learning’s goal is to promote high-quality pre-K education for children under the age of five,” Department of Early Learning (DEL) Director Bette Hyde said. “Every pre-K child deserves the resources and tools he or she needs to build a strong foundation for learning and success.”