Advocates are asking lawmakers for $2 million to expand the state's low-income preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Nearly 200 homeless children are on the wait list for Washington State’s subsidized preschool program for low-income families.
It would cost about $2 million to make space for them, according to a nonprofit organization based in Bellevue that advocates for Head Start providers and families. But time is running out in this Legislative session to fund an expansion.
“These are absolutely the most at-risk kids in the state,” said the organization’s executive director, Joel Ryan. “How do you just leave these kids without any help? It’s just not right.”
Ryan said he recently asked the Department of Early Learning for data about homeless children on the wait list because of increased attention to homelessness this year in Olympia.
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He said he calculated the amount needed to accommodate the wait-listed homeless kids at $10,600 per child for six hours of preschool a day.
The state’s preschool program, founded in 1985, provides nutrition, health, education and other services to 3- and 4-year-old children from families at or below 110 percent of the federal poverty level.
Children in families above that income limit may also qualify if they have special needs or disrupted home lives because of addiction, imprisoned parents or other circumstances. Children who are homeless or involved in the child welfare system also are eligible, if space is available.
The program is boosting kindergarten readiness, but it cannot find room for all the families who want to enroll their children.
Last year, the Legislature agreed to pay for 1,600 additional slots, bringing the total to almost 11,700 annually in the two-year budget, but demand still exceeds supply.
The current wait list of about 2,700 includes 192 kids who are considered homeless under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act.
That law defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” which includes kids who are sleeping in a shelter, a motel, on a friend’s couch, or doubled up with relatives.