We come from different worlds of early-childhood education, affordable housing and the private sector. We came together because of our shared belief that every child must have access to quality early learning. We know the impact of quality early learning grows exponentially for both the child and family when they have a stable, safe, affordable home.
King County has a rare opportunity to direct $318 million in one-time funds to improve educational outcomes for underserved children with the Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account (PSTAA). In 2015, the state Legislature added a fee to Sound Transit construction contracts to generate revenues to improve academic outcomes in early learning, K-12 schools and higher education. While there are many laudable ways the Metropolitan King County Council can choose to spend the money, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to dedicate significant upstream investments in early learning facilities and improve educational outcomes while building lasting infrastructure for generations.
In December 2017, the County Council identified seven goals for PSTAA funding. Early learning, done well and intentionally addressing disparities, is essential to all of them. Systemic structural disadvantages start from the beginning of a child’s life, with disparities across cognitive, social, behavioral and health outcomes apparent at 9 months of age. A strong early start has a direct correlation with a child’s likelihood to complete school, attend college and avoid involvement in the criminal justice system. Consistent, quality early learning can provide safety and stability for children in foster care and be a protective factor against the long-term impacts of trauma for homeless children. We maximize long-term benefits to families and education results when we invest in the first five years of a child’s life.
Most families face daunting waiting lists for early learning. Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) providers often reject funds for ECEAP slots due to lack of space. Mandates to reduce K-3 class sizes, new Head Start requirements and real estate market pressures have created barriers for retaining or expanding programs. Facilities are an urgently needed component of expanding access to early learning programs, particularly in access “deserts” with limited child care.
The lack of financing for facilities and capital improvements restricts growth — PSTAA funds would help fill that gap. We recognize that King County is investing operating funding in early childhood programs through Best Starts for Kids, but overall scarcity of public funding in early childhood means we are not meeting the needs of our community’s children.
We applaud the County Council for prioritizing both stand-alone early learning facilities and their co-location with affordable housing as strategies in its PSTAA planning. We urge the council to invest at least 60% of this funding in early learning facilities to create a legacy impact.
PSTAA funds could be a driving force to foster innovative partnerships at the intersection of affordable housing, transportation accessibility, educational needs and closing the opportunity gap for children in King County. Partnering with affordable housing projects and creating multiuse spaces that serve families across the education continuum could be a powerful anchor for economically vulnerable communities and with residents at risk of displacement. With innovative and thoughtful planning, the county could capitalize on this unique opportunity to drive meaningful, long-lasting change.
The council has heard from parents who have had to forgo a paycheck or faced increased stress because they could not find care as they welcomed a new baby into their family. They have heard from early-education providers who have had to make difficult choices about whether to pay their recycling bill or fix their playground. The care of our children shapes not only our economy of today, but also opportunity for our future.
We are from different worlds, but we have a common goal: To change the trajectory for underserved kids through a strong start with early learning. We urge the County Council to seize this rare opportunity and support a robust allocation of PSTAA funds toward early-learning facilities.