Last Tuesday, Children's Alliance staff waited outside the Governor's office to attend the signing ceremony for the education reform bill (HB 2261). We were ready to celebrate a landmark victory for early learning and a step toward equity for disadvantaged children. Then we got the news that the Governor was using her veto power to strip early learning out of the bill, discarding a precious opportunity to begin to address the grave inequalities in our educational system.
Many had worked for months to build early learning into the state’s definition of basic education. This would have made early learning for at-risk three- and four-year-olds part of the state’s responsibility under the constitution. In writing this section into law, legislators had recognized early learning as integral to the success of our educational system and of every child who enters it. It was a crucial step toward improving both the overall quality of that system and its equity.
Governor Gregoire stated that she was vetoing the section because she believed all children deserve early education. The early learning section of the bill was the first step toward a stronger early learning system; how does offering disadvantaged children a high-quality program preclude making it available to all?
The veto was a setback for racial equity. In this country, there is a persistent and shameful gap between the educational achievements of white children and children of color. The gap begins early, before kids even enter kindergarten. Low-income children and children of color are routinely denied the opportunity to enter kindergarten prepared to succeed That’s why most folks who have studied the achievement gap now believe it to be actually a preparation gap.
By the time they enter kindergarten, disadvantaged kids are already behind, and studies show that kids who start behind rarely catch up. The good news is that we know the solution: Research shows that one of the most effective ways to address the education gap is through high-quality preschool targeted at the most disadvantaged. For example, two long-term studies of pre-k found that participating in high-quality preschool increases high school graduation rates for at-risk children by as much as 44 percent.
Targeting high-quality early learning resources to the kids who most need it is both efficient and just. Starting with the kids who are currently being left behind sure made sense to us.
Every year we fail to take action to give disadvantaged children the chance to start school on an equal footing means another set of kids who enter school behind. These kids can’t wait for us to decide that the effects of racism and poverty are intolerable.
--by Paola Maranan
Photo by massdistraction