Washington Legislature should hold the line on early learning investment that pays dividends
Washington is one of the few states with an agency focused on early learning. Comparatively speaking, just a sliver of the state general fund goes to child development. Legislators should not give in to the temptation to cut into that slice.
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Investing in early learning is the most economical and proven way to produce better-prepared students and the next generation's skilled workforce. The research is impeachable. There is a direct line between early-learning efforts and increased high school graduation rates.
Washington state is a leader in this arena, one of the few with an agency focused on early learning. Comparatively speaking, just a sliver of the state general fund goes to early child development. Legislators must not cut into that slice at all.
We know what works: high-quality preschool programs and community-outreach efforts centered on helping young minds develop.
These programs need three things: broad accessibility, the most up-to-date knowledge about how young brains work and strong, direct links with the K-12 system.
A huge hole in the state budget makes this a difficult time to call for doing more in early learning. But the state cannot afford to do less. It should hold the line on funding for early-learning programs.
Debate over the learning capacities of 3- and 4-year-olds has been settled by advances in neuroscience pointing to the early years — from birth through age 5 — as the most extraordinary period of growth and development in a child's lifetime.
Ignoring the science is a failure that compounds. The kid entering kindergarten having never opened a book or been read to will struggle to learn to read. By third grade, when most students shift from learning to read to reading to learn, struggling readers face the prospect of never catching up. Eventually, those students join the dropout factory.
Compared with more expensive efforts in later years, putting money into early learning is an investment that pays off. For every $1 invested in early learning, $2 is returned into the economy.
Part of the economic-development argument is about jobs for good preschool teachers but it is also about increased workplace productivity as working families finally have access to quality child care.
Lawmakers must protect early learning. It pays dividends again and again.