Recent research and initiatives have highlighted the importance of high-quality early learning experiences. Yet ensuring that more low-income children receive high-quality early learning experiences requires not only efforts to improve the quality of early childhood programs but also efforts to help low-income families and children gain access to high-quality programs. Unfortunately, in the past few years, many states and programs have cut back on the assistance that would help disadvantaged families afford high-quality care. But Connecticut and Seattle are going against this trend and taking concrete steps to make a difference.
Connecticut’s Governor Dannel Malloy included a pledge tied to the state’s Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund application that said regardless of whether the state wins this competition it will fund 1,000 new prekindergarten slots targeted to high-need children starting in July 2013.
Despite a challenging economy, Seattle voters continued their tradition of approving a Families and Education Levy. This levy nearly doubles the current levy by raising $232 million over the next seven years for early education through high school, approximately $61 million of which is targeted for various early learning initiatives. This includes nearly $51 million for work on a comprehensive early learning strategy. The remainder will support home visiting, students’ transition to kindergarten, existing state-supported slots in early education programs, and health screenings for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
This is good news since both Connecticut and Washington state have serious gaps in their child care assistance programs. Connecticut currently reimburses child care centers serving four-year-olds that receive child care assistance at rates that are 40 percent below the federally recommended level. Washington state reimburses child care centers serving four-year-olds in King County, which includes Seattle, 36 percent less than this recommended level and in March started a waiting list for child care assistance for the first time in 20 years.
It is heartening to see a Governor in Connecticut and the public in Seattle understand that more resources are needed to make good on the promise of high-quality early learning experiences for our children.