The voting public solidly backs babies, toddlers and preschool-age children.
Quality child care, pre-K and other programs are a necessity, not a luxury, say nearly 9 in 10 voters in a recent nationwide poll. Democrats, Republicans and independent voters all value early education for kids ages birth to five. And solid majorities of voters highly sought after by candidates for office—moderates, millennials, Latinos, non-partisan women—support early learning.
The poll, released last week by First Five Years Fund, is particularly relevant in Washington, where we are working to increase statewide access to quality early learning, with a focus on making sure all kids, regardless of race or ethnic background, have access to the building blocks of success.
During its last session, the Washington Legislature and Governor Inslee agreed to adopt the Early Start Act, which allocates unprecedented resources to both early learning providers and families seeking high-quality early childhood education. Through this legislative achievement, state lawmakers have committed a historic $158 million in new state investment to early learning for the biennial 2015-17 budget. Local governments are putting groundbreaking research into early childhood into action, with initiatives like Best Starts for Kids.
Now it’s time for Congress to do its part. Over the next few weeks, Congress has the important task of finalizing the 2016 budget, with the potential for big impacts on funding for early learning and other programs that help Washington’s children and their families thrive.
Despite significant state investment, fewer than 46 percent of eligible children in Washington are served by Head Start and ECEAP. Families applying for Working Connections, Washington’s child care subsidy partially funded by a federal block grant, will likely face a waiting list sometime next year without additional funding. Further, new federal policies promise to improve quality in early learning settings, but without additional appropriations, even fewer children will be served by these programs.