PRESCHOOL for all of Seattle’s 3-and 4-year-olds is one of most promising ideas to emerge from the Seattle City Council.
Councilmember Tim Burgess, chairman of the Government Performance Committee that oversees the city’s education-related efforts, wants the city to explore paying for preschool for low-income families. Other families could pay fees based on income.
Preschool can save school districts about $3,700 per child over the K-12 years because less money is required for remediation and costlier interventions, according to research on early learning. Another $1,000 per child is saved on money that would have been spent on health care, drug prevention, child protection and juvenile justice.
The Seattle Public Schools should be consulted, and included, in the city’s plans. The district operates a preschool at South Shore Pre-K-8 School. Moreover, city preschool offerings should align with district and state academic standards. There could be a greater role for the district, including the use of its buildings for preschool programs.
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Currently, federal and state preschool efforts, Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Programs, provide opportunities only for low-income families. Too many other children miss out on early-learning programs because their families cannot afford private preschool or because availability is limited.
Early-education programs hold considerable promise for narrowing the education gaps. That’s one reason the Washington Legislature this year added slots in state-funded preschool programs. The state is moving slowly toward a 2017-18 school-year mandate to provide all state kindergartners with a full-day of school.
City leaders will have to decide whether to fund programs from the Families and Education levy or use general-fund dollars. The next step, a council-requested feasibility study, should yield answers.