Washington’s public preschool program ranked among the leading states in quality and funding, sitting among the top 10 that hit quality benchmarks, according to an annual review of preschools across the country.
But, the state must complete an ambitious expansion of preschool in the coming years to fulfill its commitment to broader access to its preschool program, the Early Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP).
The good news is that Washington’s ECEAP policies hit nearly all quality benchmarks set out in the “State of Preschool 2013” released by the National Institute for Early Education Research on Tuesday.
The ECEAP program keeps classes to 20 students or fewer, requires higher education for its assistant teachers, follows early learning standards, and provides in-service training, monitoring, screening, support services and meals, the report found. The only benchmark it didn’t reach was requiring bachelor degrees for its head teachers. (It requires associate degrees.) Washington also ranked ninth among states in state spending and 13th in overall spending in 2013.
On access, it’s a different and more complicated story. Washington ranked 33rd among states in access to preschool for 4-year-old students in 2013. The state, though, has a plan to boost its ranking by expanding access over the next five years.
“The Legislature and governor have increased both access to and quality of state-funded preschool in recent years, and we are well on our way to preschool being available for all eligible children by the entitlement in 2018-19,” Amy Blondin, who manages government and community relations at the Department of Early Learning, wrote in an email. “As NIEER notes, we’re expanding slots in an innovative way, by following the research and emphasizing dosage (classroom time), high-quality curriculum and tailored services based on what families need. This is what is going to get us to kindergarten-readiness for children.”
The plan is ambitious and mandated. It calls for more than 3,000 new slots during each of the following four school years, with an overall price tag of $182 million.
“The report found that our state pre-k program is once again considered one of the best in the country,” Joel Ryan, executive director of the Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP wrote in an email. “But more funding is needed to meet the incredible need. Thousands of children are currently on the waitlist. I am hopeful that this report will serve as a good news-bad news message to lawmakers in Olympia — good news because our program is recognized for its high quality, but bad news because so few children can participate.”
Nationally, enrollment in state public preschools fell modestly in 2013, but spending rose, according to the report.
The 2012-2013 school year capped a dismal half-decade, with more bad news as well as a glimmer of hope. After the 2011-2012 downturn in spending and quality, many state pre-K program budgets leveled off and even regained some ground. This offers hope that as state budgets emerge from the recession, policymakers will prioritize early learning programs. However, this was also the first year since we began reporting (2001-2002) that states failed to increase the number of children they serve in pre-K.
—“The State of Preschool 2013.” NIEER. 5/13/14.
- “Preschool Yearbook Finds Fewer Children Enrolled.” EdCentral, New America Foundation. 5/13/14.
- “Report: Preschool Enrollments Decline.” The Washington Post. 5/12/14.
- “Preschool Yearbook: Washington State Making Progress in Quality, Access.” DEL Connect blog, Department of Early Learning. 5/13/14.