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Press Release: Governor's early learning veto a shock and disappointment

May 19, 2009—Governor Chris Gregoire today vetoed the section of the Basic Education Bill (House Bill 2261) that stated the intent to provide preschool for at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds as part of the state’s definition of basic education. As part of basic education preschool for this group would eventually have been funded on a per pupil basis in the same way K-12 education is funded.

This surprise veto from the Governor shocked and disappointed legislative supporters and advocates. It took months of negotiations and compromise to craft this provision of the bill and gain the support of a majority of legislators. Early Learning Action Alliance members were disappointed at the Governor’s veto.

“We’re deeply disappointed that Governor Chris Gregoire vetoed the early learning section of the basic education bill,” said Paola Maranan, Executive Director of the Children’s Alliance. “The Children’s Alliance is supportive of efforts to improve the K-12 system, and we know we will never realize the kind of achievement we hope for from our K-12 students if we fail to address the fact that low-income children and children of color are routinely denied the opportunity to enter kindergarten prepared to succeed. Legislators recognized the importance of helping kids who need it most get the opportunity to enter school ready to succeed. This was an opportunity lost.”

In vetoing the section of HB 2261 that states the intent to add pre-school for at risk children to the state’s educational responsibility, the Governor said she would focus on early learning next year with the goal of coming back to the legislature with a new bill to create a universal preschool system in Washington State.

“The Governor has pledged to focus on early learning in the next legislative session, Maranan said. “This is a promise Washington children need her to keep.”

Hannah Lidman, Senior Policy Associate, Economic Opportunity Institute, said:

“We are disappointed Governor Gregoire vetoed early learning out of the basic education bill. Quality early learning is the gateway to a good education and the economic opportunities that follow. We agree with the Governor’s statement that early learning should be available to every child in the state. But instead of taking a first step in that direction, her decision to veto House Bill 2261’s early learning provisions takes a big step backwards. We are all the poorer for it.”

Lucy Kee, vice-chair of the Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP (WSA) and a parent of a child enrolled in the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), said:

“I am disappointed that the Governor decided to veto the portion of the education reform bill that would have included early learning in the definition of basis education. I have seen first-hand the remarkable transformation of my son, Colton, and the benefits that a high quality early learning program can provide. With the support of Washington’s preschool program, ECEAP, he grew from a extremely dependant child, reliant on a feeding tube to sustain his life, to a strong, independent child who regularly asks for seconds at the dinner table and who is prepared to learn and thrive in school. I really believe that the decision by the Governor today is a step backwards for our state and for the many children like my son who need a little extra help to get ready for school and to live a full life. “

Legislative supporters of the early learning provision of the Basic Education Bill expressed similar disappointment at today’s veto.

Representative Pat Sullivan, prime sponsor and champion of the early learning provisions, said:

“While I am pleased with the sections of the education reform bill that were signed into law today, I cannot express enough how disappointed I am in the veto of the early learning section. We have let down children most at risk, who need and deserve every opportunity to be successful in life.”

Representative Skip Priest, cosponsor and champion for the early learning provisions, said:

“I was shocked at the Governor’s decision to veto the early learning section of the bill, which applies to at-risk children. After all, the early learning provision would assist the kids we worry about the most. If we truly believe that ‘all means all’ when it comes to the education of our children, then early learning should have been part of these much-needed school reforms. The studies make clear that the young students who would benefit the most from early learning are those living in poverty and learning English as a second language. Knowing this, we must make early learning for at-risk children our number one priority.”

Rep. Eric Pettigrew, cosponsor and long time advocate for closing the achievement gap, said:

“I am very disappointed. We talk about creating a level playing field for all children and we know that children who don’t get what they need early in life fail later on. This was an opportunity to take a significant step to help all children and to make an impact in communities that include at risk-children, where education is their only avenue to an equal opportunity in life. This bill has everything to do with fairness. I disagree with the Governor’s decision.”

The Early Learning Action Alliance is convened by the Children’s Alliance.

Learn more by contacting: Leslie Dozono at
(206) 324.0340 x20 or leslie@childrensalliance.org