Supporting 'Preschool for All' in Washington state

November 12, 2021

Policy Brief from the University of Michigan’s Education Policy Initiative outlines a vision for high-quality universal preschool in the state of Washington

High-quality preschool helps prepare children for kindergarten and promotes their long-term success.  Yet, many families with middle and low incomes in the state of Washington are left out of public preschool options and cannot afford preschool on their own. As a result, Washington ranks 38th among all states in public preschool enrollment for four-year-olds and 17th for three-year-olds. 

A policy report  from the University of Michigan’s Education Policy Initiative (EPI) presents specific recommendations for a Washington Preschool for All program, noting “high-quality preschool benefits all children and narrows opportunity gaps and inequities for children of color, dual language learners, and children from families with low incomes.”

The Washington Preschool for All proposal examines the current early learning landscape in the state. Although Washington has invested in expanding access to high-quality early learning, there are wide disparities based on geography, economic status, and state assistance. Legislation under consideration at the federal level may finally bring the needed resources to build a high-quality system that meets the needs of all families.  If not, the state could choose to fund its own program as states like Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Vermont do.

The policy proposal envisions “statewide, universal, voluntary, high-quality preschool delivered through a mix of public and community-based nonprofit service providers, phased in over 10 years.” The 10-year time-frame is necessary “due to the current statewide lack of adequate preschool facilities, the need to strengthen and expand the early childhood education workforce, the economic investments needed to build the system to capacity, and the importance of addressing the geographic challenges of providing the program in rural areas of the state.”

The report’s policy recommendations are the result of years of engagement between leaders and practitioners in Washington and the Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality team, including Christina Weiland, EPI faculty co-director; Tim Burgess, former City Council President & Interim Mayor of Seattle; Ajay Chaudry of New York University; Ruth Kagi, former Member, Washington State House of Representatives; Anna Shapiro of the University of Virginia; and Casey Moran from New York University.  

“Washington has made smart, strategic investments in early education but isn’t yet reaching enough children and families. Particularly if the federal Build Back Better legislation is passed to provide universal preschool, states are going to need a vision for how to scale up high-quality early learning for all young kids. That’s exactly what our proposal offers,” says Weiland. 

Initial reactions to the policy brief’s recommendations have been positive. “Preschool is a game-changer. We know when a child and their family have a high-quality supportive preschool experience it sets them up for better educational outcomes. The roadmap laid out in this policy paper will help many more families, especially children of color, enter K-12 education with a fairer start,” comments Erin Okuno, Executive Director, Southeast Seattle Education Coalition.

Erica Johnson, former Senior Policy Advisor for Early Learning for the City of Seattle, commends the approach. “By blending funding from multiple sources, Washington can make quality preschool, which has been shown to have long-term benefits for children, accessible to all. This plan presents a strong vision for what is possible. With the time, resources, and flexibility to design community-based strategies for implementation, towns and cities across Washington can develop the infrastructure to make this vision a reality.” 

Stephan Blanford, executive director of the Children’s Alliance said, “This proposal presents an astute analysis of the current state of child care in Washington, along with well-considered policy prescriptions to improve availability, access, and quality. Policymakers, advocates, academics, and the general public would be wise to study these recommendations.”

The report outlines specific program parameters, including eligibility and cost to families,  teacher compensation and credentials, and service delivery, and makes specific policy recommendations on full school days, prohibiting expulsions, and quality monitoring and evaluation, among others.

The full report can be seen here

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