At League of Education Voters, we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state.
We are pleased to announce our Education Advocate of the Month for November: Patty Shastany. Read about her advocacy for early childhood education.
Patty Shastany serves as a coach in Spokane for the Early Achievers program, which improves the quality of early learning in Washington state. As an Early Achievers coach, she spends most of her time in the field at childcare programs to work with directors and teachers to improve the quality of care for children. Since 2012, she has facilitated a monthly meeting for childcare owners and directors to build relationships and support each other in improving program quality. As part of that work, early learning professionals have advocated for effective, realistic regulations, and better funding to support quality improvements. Patty’s organizing paved the way for the statewide Washington Childcare Centers Association (WCCA). “I am most proud of the relationships I have built,” she says, “especially with people who want to make the world better for kids.”
Patty has known League of Education Voters Spokane Regional Field Director Sandra Jarrard for years. Since Early Achievers rolled out in 2012, Patty has been facilitating monthly meetings with owners and directors of childcare programs. “Sandra came to a meeting in 2015 to help us understand advocacy,” she recalls. “A year after that, the minimum wage law passed and the unintended consequence was that childcare programs struggled to increase wages without raising tuition rates beyond what families can afford. Childcare programs have always worked on the very edge of being sustainable, especially programs that cared for significant numbers of children who received subsidies from the state. State reimbursement rates are far below the market rates. “It’s hard to maintain quality and keep teachers without adequate funding,” Patty says. “Programs need to cut corners wherever they can, which impacts the level of quality you can provide.”
“My motive has always been ‘let’s solve the problem’”
The minimum wage issue ignited the broader community of providers, which moved them to action. “My motive has always been ‘let’s solve the problem,’” says Patty. “Our programs needed better funding so they could increase teacher wages, which is why we needed to give early learning providers a voice.” Under the umbrella of Spokane nonprofit Community-Minded Enterprises, Patty took childcare owners and directors to Olympia to advocate for an increase in the subsidy reimbursement rate to keep pace with the minimum wage increases. They were able to get a 6% increase in subsidy rates, and also build relationships with legislators and educate them on the importance and challenges of early learning. “These are small business owners doing their best to provide a good start for young children. Their message resonated on both sides of the aisle. Legislators supported it from a small business perspective and because it’s about doing what’s right for children and families,” she says.
These advocacy efforts spawned the Washington Childcare Centers Association (WCCA) to provide childcare centers a voice at the tables that make decisions and policies that affect their programs. In a little over a year, WCCA has gained 300 members from across the state. Its members have been involved in the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) negotiated rulemaking process, and part of legislative early learning committees. There is still work to be done to increase funding to levels that reflect the true cost of quality.
On her own education journey, Patty says she was a good fit for school and it was easy for her. “I always did really well,” she recollects. “I had a solid upbringing coming into school – the most boring childhood in the world, which I found out later was a good thing. I had a stable, two-parent household and only two residences in my growing up years. I credit my stable environment and parents who valued education for my school success.”
Patty says, “School really worked for me, and I know it doesn’t work for many.” She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, attended the University of Nebraska Omaha, and moved to Santa Cruz, California, in her 20s, before heading to Spokane at age 33. “When I went to college, I decided I didn’t want to go into any profession that was female-dominated because it would be underpaid,” she says.
Ironically, Patty ended up earning a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, worked in a preschool program, and started her own family childcare when she became a parent. She has been in the early childhood education field ever since.
“In the K-12 system, we should push up principles of early learning”
When asked about what she would change in our education system, Patty has three recommendations:
- “Our system should recognize that learning starts in utero – at birth. This is very critical time for brain development and building strong foundations. There needs to be an attempt to change the definition of basic definition to begin at birth, instead of at age 5. We need to make sure that when children are born, they come into families that have support around them so the kids can have a positive start. It is difficult to care for a baby who has needs 24/7, and it is especially hard for families that don’t have their basic needs met. Families need communities around them. We should provide support to new parents and options that allow them to balance work and caring for their young children.
- “In the K-12 system, we should push up principles of early learning. Children who have had the benefits of high quality early learning programs come to kindergarten with the ability to work in groups, self-initiate their learning, and are equipped to be independent learners. Then they get into kindergarten classrooms that look like first-grade classrooms. There’s a shift in their desire to learn and their sense of self. In early learning, subjects are meaningful and integrated. Literacy is about learning to write your name – it’s about you, i.e. I want to write a note to my mom. Meaningful and individualized learning is a big thing. We should guard against K-12 principles being pushed into early learning.
- “Early learning principles apply up the chain. Education that is individualized, meaningful, and culturally relevant, promotes learning that sticks. Children can reach their full potential when these principles are the foundation.”
When asked why she works with League of Education Voters, Patty says, “What I know about LEV is that you have always been huge advocates for doing things better in the K-12 system and have advocated for increased funding. I appreciated being able to speak about tying early learning into K-12.”
Patty says she stays in early learning because it is her passion. “I work with teachers and families that aren’t getting a fair shake,” she says. “It’s hard from my perspective as a coach when there’s this revolving door of teachers. It’s not uncommon for young children to have as many as 3 different teachers every year. This is detrimental to the trusting relationships that children need to learn and grow. When we have stable staff, then we can do something. We need to fund this properly, and we need to compensate these teachers better and raise the bar.”
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