United Way of King County's $25 million fundraising campaign to pay for early learning opportunities in homes least likely to be able to access these services — low-income, minority and non-English-speaking families — is a proven strategy worthy of community investment.

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AN overwhelming body of research backs up the importance of ensuring young children have the tools and skills for learning before they enter school.

Among Washington’s lowest-income families and those who do not speak English, about 75 percent arrive to kindergarten without adequate learning skills. Many never attended preschool; others had never held a book or been read to.

United Way of King County has launched an impressive effort to turn around this trend by training parents to serve as their child’s first teacher, coach and advocate.

The device is the Parent-Child Home Program and its methods are deceptively simple. Families of children between ages 2 and 4 are visited for 30 minutes twice a week. Books and toys are used to spark child learning. Parents learn what teaching looks like. About 89.3 percent of parents complete the two-year program.

The program’s effective strategy was polished during a five-year pilot by the Business Partnership for Early Learning.

A 40-year study found that low-income children enrolled in the program have a graduation rate of 80 percent, compared with a rate of 50 percent for kids who were not enrolled. Only about 2 percent of eligible families in Washington state benefit from these voluntary, research-based home-visit programs.

The privately funded business group’s program helped roughly 160 families each year; the United Way hopes to reach 1,200 annually.

Dramatic improvement in the number of children arriving in kindergarten ready to learn improves academic success all the way up the ladder. This is critical. Washington cannot continue to lead in business and technology innovation without dramatic improvements in education.

United Way has kicked off a $25 million fundraising campaign to pay for the services. By targeting homes least likely to access these services, United Way’s efforts complement ongoing state and local attention to early learning. This is worthy of a community’s investment.