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September 10, 2012 at 2:00 PM

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Education analysis and reform in Washington state

Clarification on grant-fund usage

I applaud The Times’ editorial “Early learning a key investment,” but call attention to an error that overstates the funding currently available for preschool [Opinion, Sept. 9]. As a member of the team that wrote the successful Race to the Top/Early Learning Challenge grant, I can say that none of these funds will be used “to enroll more at-risk children in quality programs.”

While the grant will provide important support to improve the quality of early learning in our state, it will not fund a single additional child slot; resources for that must come from the state. I believe only a basic reform of our state revenue, including an income tax, can provide the funding needed to make preschool available to all children who will benefit from it.

The Legislature in 2010 created the Early Learning Technical Workgroup, on which I served, to examine Washington’s preschool funding. The work group identified two huge gaps in the availability of preschool in our state. One was the 19,000 children identified by The Times as eligible but not served by the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) or Head Start. The other group is less visible; families who do not qualify for ECEAP because they are “too rich,” which, remarkably, includes any family of three earning over $21,000 a year.

Our work group recommended public funding of preschool for families earning up to $50,000 a year, with parent co-pays charged for families with higher incomes. Our state must raise sufficient revenue to allow all parents to have access to this opportunity for their children.

— John Bancroft, Seattle

A supportive and effective system is needed

I applaud The Times editorial board on launching an “intense conversation” regarding the future of education in our state. As implied, a broadly based, robust education system is fundamental to building a resilient democratic society — we all benefit from an approach that embraces this belief.

In Washington state, our constitutional obligation is “ample provision for all” and the establishment of a “general and uniform system.” This mandate naturally suggests a financial responsibility and I agree with the Supreme Court ruling, which found the state as falling short in regard to that duty.

I also agree with The Times’ position arguing that we must move away from putting all our eggs in the K-12 basket, i.e. promoting a “3 to 23” approach to education [“A new vision for education,” editorial, Opinion, Sept. 9].

The only fault I find with this approach is that we must recognize that learning begins at birth. As reported, “Much of brain development occurs before children turn 5.” In fact, the most intense development occurs before a child’s third birthday.

If we are to “ensure the full system is making sure our youngest citizens are ready for kindergarten,” we must establish an effective system that supports children and families beginning at birth, some would argue earlier.

— Mike Sheehan, Shoreline

Think of those with a harder path to success

I congratulate The Seattle Times for its thoughtful analysis that urges our state to pursue more progressive and informed strategies to improve educational outcomes for all Washington residents. As president of Whitworth University, I want to welcome any Washington high-school graduate to our school and know that she or he will graduate ready to enrich our state’s economy and civic life — but the path to school success is more difficult for some.

Year after year, test scores and graduation statistics point to a persistent opportunity gap for low-income children and children of color. As an early-learning researcher and advocate, and as a board member for Thrive by Five Washington, I know this gap can be seen in children less than a year old. Research tells us that high-quality early-learning experiences can close these gaps. Despite that, more than 10,000 eligible children don’t have access to the state’s preschool program.

Expanding our definition of education is important, but funding is also necessary. I challenge us to think about investing in what works for children, especially those with a harder path to success. We need a real commitment of our state’s resources to ensure that all kids have a fair shot.

—Beck A. Taylor, president, Whitworth University, Spokane

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