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TRUTH SQUAD: Early learning veto

Last week The Seattle Times published an editorial in support of Gov. Gregoire’s veto of the early learning section in HB 2261.  We, like so many others across the state, were saddened to lose that part of the bill, and see some things a bit differently than The Times.

The Seattle Times
“Governor shows leadership on early learning”
May 22, 2009


League of Education Voters’
Truth Squad

Gregoire vetoed language in the bill that focused narrowly on low-income preschoolers. State efforts around early learning must be broader.Governor Chris Gregoire today vetoed the section of the Basic Education Bill (House Bill 2261) that stated the intent to provide a program of early learning for at-risk children as part of the state’s definition of basic education. As part of basic education, funding for this program would have been under the protection of the Washington State Constitution in the same way much of K-12 funding is protected. The program would have been developed by a work group led by OSPI and the Department of Early Learning (DEL). Much like the state’s phase-in of all-day kindergarten, this program of early learning would have initially targeted those children most at-risk of falling behind, with the option to expand the program to all children in Washington if deemed appropriate.
Nothing will be lost. Gregoire established the state Department of Early Learning and promises it will retain a focus on early learning, including broadening access and improving academic quality.The Governor established DEL in 2005. Recently Dr. Bette Hyde, former superintendent of the Bremerton School District, became the head of the department. Dr. Hyde will provide strong leadership for DEL, however it isn’t true to say that ”nothing will be lost.” The 2009-2011 budget included $12 million in budget cuts, a 10% reduction from the maintenance budget. DEL will have to lay off an estimated 30 FTEs during this time period.
At both the federal and state level, spending and efforts on early learning are unprecedented. About $1 billion is targeted to the federal preschool program, Head Start, for the next two years.The ARRA federal stimulus package included $1.1 billion for Early Head Start expansion, awarded by competitive grants. We do not know how much money, if any, Washington State will receive. Preference is given to centers with Early Head Start programs. Washington State serves 14% of eligible children through Early Head Start. In Seattle, Washington’s largest urban area, only 243 Early Head Start slots are available. 

The remaining $1.235 billion will be used for Head Start programs serving 3- and 4-year-old children. Since Head Start has been vastly underfunded in the past eight years, much of the funding will be used to raise the level of quality with the children who are currently being served. Only 18% of Head Start funding will be used to expand programs and serve new children. Source

The state budgets allocates $121 million to DEL, a much smaller allocation than to K-12 or higher education (K-12 is $13 billion, higher education is $3 billion).

Gregoire boosted funding and enrollment for the state equivalent (to Head Start) in 2007.Gov. Gregoire added funding to the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) in the 2007-2009 biennium. She increased funding to $6,500 per child (compared to Head Start’s $9,500 per slot) and added funding for 2,250 additional slots. 

In Washington, ECEAP serves 23% of low-income preschoolers, while Head Start serves 35%. This means that 42% of eligible low-income preschools are unserved due to lack of funding. 

This budget year, she made only incremental cuts despite one of the most challenging budgets in state history.Early learning programs were cut by $12 million, or 10% of total funding. This figure includes federal stimulus funds.
Other federal funds can be used for early-childhood education, including hundreds of millions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for programs that served disabled children from infancy to kindergarten age.Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Title I funding can be used for early learning programs, however this is unlikely due to funding strains on K-12 programs. With the K-12 system looking at cuts upwards of $1 billion for the 2009-11 biennium, including layoffs of at least 4,000 educators, districts will most likely use additional IDEA and Title I funds to preserve teaching and support staff positions.
The recent economic-stimulus package included $13 billion for schools with large populations of children from low-income families. The money can be used to pay for early-childhood programs.Ditto above.

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