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Originally published Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 3:56 PM

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Editorial: Preschool benefits trickle up

Washington state targets less than 1 percent of education spending on early learning. Budget proposals from the House and the Senate rightly increase.

Seattle Times Editorial

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EARLY-learning programs offer a cost-effective way to prepare young learners for success in school and in life.

Preschool is a benefit that trickles up. Research shows high-quality preschool saves school districts about $3,700 per child over the K-12 years.

The National Institute for Early Education Research annual look at states’ early-learning efforts gives Washington high marks for quality.

The state Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) met nine of 10 benchmarks for quality. The 10th requires lead teachers to hold bachelor’s degrees. Now they are required to have an associate degree with 30 credits in early-childhood education.

But access for children to state early-learning opportunities is limited. The national report dinged Washington for that fact. ECEAP has space for just 8,391 children, while an additional 3,347 children were on a waitlist.

Those numbers should improve. A new state law requires that by 2018-19, all low-income eligible preschoolers will be able to receive free ECEAP services. Combined with 10,600 federally funded Head Start slots, Washington currently serves just 37 percent of children eligible for publicly funded preschool.

A dramatic ramp-up is required.

Washington ranked seventh in the nation for state per-child funding, at an average of $6,600.

Research is clear that access to high-quality early-learning programs prepares students for school and improves school success and graduation rates.

The state spends less than 1 percent of its budget on early learning. Budget proposals from the House and the Senate would increase funding and expand programs. That’s a noteworthy start.

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