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Among a slew of education proposals announced during Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget rollout last week, Inslee suggested a hefty boost to the state’s Department of Early Learning — $177 million over the next two years, more than doubling the amount of money the department gets from the state today.

The governor hailed that increase as the “largest-ever state investment in early learning.”

He is right.

Gov. Jay Inslee
Gov. Jay Inslee

As far as the 8-year-old Department of Early Learning is concerned, the $177 million increase would be the department’s biggest ever, said Mike Steenhout, its chief financial officer. Among other child care and early learning services, the department runs Washington state’s preschool program, called the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, or E-Cap, which currently provides preschool to about 10,000 low-income students statewide.

If adopted, Inslee’s suggested $177 million increase would be nearly three times greater than the next largest funding spike in the department’s history, which came as it was ramping up around 2007. Inslee proposed adding $2 million for home visits, $4 million for early intervention with special needs toddlers and providing $70.5 million in state dollars for the Early Achievers child care rating and improvement program, which is today almost entirely funded by a one-time federal grant.

The proposal also calls for $79.8 million to increase the number of preschool-aged students attending state-funded preschool by 6,400 students — to 16,400 students — over the next two years.

“It’s all about readiness, getting the kids ready to be a success in kindergarten,” said agency spokesman Mark Varadian. “The funding as proposed by the governor goes a long way towards that.”

Inslee’s proposal would likely help compensate for the state recently missing the cut for a slice of federal preschool dollars. Washington had been eligible for up to $70 million in federal grants over the next four years.

The plan is a ringing endorsement for early learning, but the massive increase is far from settled. Both the Republican-controlled state Senate and the Democrat-controlled state House will submit their own budget proposals in the coming months. Neither is guaranteed to follow Inslee’s suggestions.