President Obama and Congress have both identified early learning as an important area of investment. The Washington State legislature should do the same and pass and fund the Early Start Act.
Our youngest kids deserve early learning opportunities that spark their curiosity, nurture their potential, and build their resilience. Consensus is growing: these opportunities lay a foundation for a strong future.
But far too many children don't get the early start they need. High quality early learning opportunities are often unaffordable or unavailable to the children who need them.
This week, President Obama proposed a budget for the coming year that would fund expanded access and improved quality for early learning programs. He repeated his call for resources for universal preschool, and proposed more funding for Head Start. He offered more investments in improving quality by funding preschool development grants. And his budget seeks more support for programs serving infants and toddlers, including home visiting and Early Head Start—Child Care partnerships.
Congress is supporting similar efforts. Early this year, Republicans and Democrats alike supported more than $1 billion in increased federal funding for Head Start, Early Head Start, child care and preschool development grants to states. Moreover, a proposal to reauthorize child care funding with new quality improvement measures, drafted by a bipartisan group of senators, looks poised to pass the Senate soon. The Republican chair of the House Committee that oversees child care has expressed interest in debating the bill as well. Momentum is picking up in the other Washington.
But federal dollars work best when they are leveraged to expand and improve state programs. Some federal money will be given out to states on a competitive basis, as with the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund. States that invest their own public dollars will be rewarded with more federal investments.
The Washington State legislature must also recognize that quality early learning can’t be done on the cheap. The Early Start Act has the potential to dramatically expand access to high-quality early learning opportunities for Washington's youngest children. The bill includes more stability for children in subsidized child care, higher reimbursement rates for programs that invest in quality, and culturally relevant professional development opportunities for care providers.
The Early Start Act passed the House with bipartisan support and now appears to be stuck in the Senate. As the legislative session nears its end, we are calling upon lawmakers to pass and fund Early Start—in Olympia and here, in the pages of the Seattle Times. You can too: just go to our Action Alert.
With less than a week left before the state legislature finalizes its budget, lawmakers' resolve to change the lives of young children is being put to the test. Can they past the test? We'll see.