For KIDS COUNT in Washington’s new “Ensuring All Kids Have Opportunities to Succeed” brief (a part of the State of Washington's Kids 2018 series), we worked with the Washington State Budget & Policy Center to look at how policymakers can help kids start strong, stay strong and finish strong in the state’s education system.
First, all kids should get off to a strong start in school. Yet in Washington, kids of color face the greatest barriers to kindergarten readiness. Far too many families cannot afford high quality early learning, especially programs that have a track record in addressing racial disparities.
Fortunately, our state has powerful tools for removing barriers to kindergarten readiness through ECEAP and robust quality standards in child care. Recent analysis by KIDS COUNT in Washington found that additional investments in ECEAP to serve more kids would dramatically reduce disparities in kindergarten readiness for kids of color.
In the K-12 years, racial disparities persist because of systemic factors like inequitable funding between low-income and high-income schools, housing instability and racially disproportionate disciplinary practices.
For example, an extensive body of research shows that systemic barriers like living in poverty and having low socioeconomic status are leading predictors of whether or not kids graduate on time. Kids of color face the greatest barriers to on-time graduation. American Indian, Pacific Islander, Black, Latino/a, and mixed-race students are 2-3 times more likely to live in poverty in Washington state than their white and many of their Asian counterparts.
More public investments are needed to address these disparities. While recent investments in public education and early learning are an important step, more needs to be done to address racial disparities in education and to ensure all kids, especially kids of color, have a path to success in school and life.
The brief recommends that state lawmakers, parents, educators and administrators take a number of steps to boost children’s success in school and in life. Aligned with Children’s Alliance’s focus on early learning, the following measures can yield great benefits later on:
- Expand the reach and flexibility of the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) and invest in affordable access to quality child care.
- Educators can also pair ECEAP assistance with other sources of public and private funding, from Head Start to private tuition, to achieve expanded opportunity for a high-quality early childhood education experience.
- Invest in family, friend and neighbor care and facilitated play groups. Boosting the supply and frequency of quality early learning opportunities that match the cultural needs and preferences of parents, and that welcome culturally and linguistically diverse caregivers, is a cost-effective means of increasing school readiness among children from all walks of life. School districts can also be encouraged to host such groups, which may help improve relationships between schools and families who feel excluded by traditional public education systems.
- Invest in local communities and school districts that are designing programs and policy solutions that remove barriers for students of color to thrive in school, including investing in school board trainings on race and racial equity, ensuring parents of color are included in the hiring of leadership staff and principal leaders, and taking other important steps to create accountability and make progress toward more equitable outcomes for students of color.