Have a Heart for Kids Day rally, 2015

The Early Start Act: Why culturally relevant care matters

Adam 01/21/15

Opportunities for positive change don’t come along every day. But right now, we have the historic opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of children. Together, we can seize it.

The bipartisan Early Start Act, sponsored by Sen. Steve Litzow (R – Mercer Island) and Rep. Ruth Kagi (D – Seattle), would integrate the latest findings on how children learn into the everyday lives of Washington’s babies, toddlers and preschoolers. The bill would:

  • help parents find high-quality care and learning opportunities that suit their kids;
  • promote high-quality early learning and parent choice;
  • get more children ready for kindergarten.
But to work well for all of Washington’s kids, the Act must also do something more: it must protect and enhance culturally relevant early care and bring about significant new investments in our early-learning infrastructure. 

Culturally relevant care entails policies, procedures, practices, and materials that are reflective of and responsive to families’ and providers’ home language and culture. To build, strengthen and protect this care, the state must consult parents, educators and early-learning professionals from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Why does that matter? Because here in Washington, a child’s race or ethnicity remains a strong predictor of where their path in life will lead. Children of color are already disproportionately affected by poverty, and the number of children in poverty has increased in recent years.

Addressing the gap in opportunity between children—a gap that’s measurable at nine months—is a moral and an economic imperative.

By 2018, children of color will represent a majority of American children. By 2030, most of the U.S. labor force will be people of color. The price of letting any group fall behind, already unacceptably high, will get higher.

Access to high quality, culturally and linguistically responsive early learning opportunities is a proven way to help close the opportunity gap. Culturally relevant care builds trust between early-childhood educators and parents of diverse backgrounds.

These early investments yield high returns in improved education and life outcomes for children. A new report by the nonpartisan 

Washington State Institute of Public Policy noted that if all currently eligible children in low-income households were enrolled in the state-funded Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program [ECEAP], student achievement scores would rise by 6-7 percent.

Abril Mitchell-Ward, a Federal Way mother of two, knows firsthand the power of quality early learning. ECEAP has allowed her 3-year-old son Tywon to make developmental leaps toward school readiness. She told the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee last week, “I am passionate about my child’s exposure to early education because now, my children can carry the type of legacy that I can be proud of.”

In addition to primary sponsors Rep. Kagi and Sen. Litzow, the Early Start Act is sponsored by the following legislators:

In the 
Senate: Sen. Andy Billig (D – Spokane), Sen. Joe Fain (R – Auburn), Sen. Bruce Dammeier (R – Puyallup), Sen. Jim Hargrove (D – Hoquiam), chief Senate budget writer Sen. Andy Hill (R – Redmond), Sen. Ann Rivers (R – La Center), Sen. Sharon Brown (R – Kennewick), Sen. Mark Mullet (D – Issaquah),  Sen. David Frockt (D – Seattle) and Sen. Pramila Jayapal (D – Seattle).

In the House: Rep. Maureen Walsh (R – Walla Walla), House budget writer Rep. Ross Hunter (D – Medina), Rep. Norm Johnson (R – Yakima), Rep. Timm Ormsby (D – Spokane), Rep. Drew MacEwen (R – Union), Rep. Tana Senn (D – Mercer Island), Rep. Chad Magendanz (R – Issaquah), Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D – Seattle), Rep. David Hayes (R – Camano Island) and Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D – Mukilteo).

Since 2008, the Early Learning Action Alliance has worked together to push for investments and policy that improves outcomes for young children. We are privileged to have witnessed major strides forward in our state’s commitment to our kids, toward a time when every single child can grow up to fully contribute to our shared community and prosperity. Your next chance to join us in bringing this moment closer comes Monday, Feb. 2, in Olympia. Join us for Have a Heart for Kids Day.