In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama highlighted the importance of early learning. He noted that the early years of a child’s life are the most important for establishing the foundation for success in school and in life. In addition to the economic benefits, he emphasized that children from all backgrounds benefit when they attend high quality early learning programs. These programs especially help students who might otherwise start school behind, particularly students from low-income families. In his speech, the president proposed an expansion of access to preschool by offering incentives and support for states that want to grow their early learning programs.
Washington state has been consistently making positive steps when it comes to early learning. In fact, last year Washington won a Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant to expand its excellent work in early learning. Our legislature has already made the commitment to provide preschool for all eligible low-income children by 2018.
Right now there are two bills in the legislature that can even further help our youngest learners and continue our leadership in early learning. One bill (HB 1723) will establish an integrated program called “Early Start” that will provide services such as preschool and childcare to low-income infants to five year olds. The other (SB 5595, HB 1671) will improve the Working Connections Childcare program to make sure that eligible low-income children receive high quality childcare.
Both of these bills will benefit children, parents, and our state. The bills integrate services and work to ensure that eligible children get the resources they are entitled to. In addition, these early learning programs save the state money in the long-term because they lower costs by decreasing referrals to special education services, decreasing grade repetition, and increasing graduation rates.
These bills work to ensure that our students start school ready to learn. They help level the playing field for our most vulnerable students, giving them a greater opportunity for success. Investments in early learning are some of the best we can make. These bills will help make sure we’re getting the most out of our investments so all of our students can succeed.