OLYMPIA, Wash. - With all the state budget talk in Olympia,
Washington's youngest residents haven't gotten much media attention,
but early learning is another hot topic at the Capitol. A package of
four bills to be heard in committee today makes a commitment to fund
early learning programs for pre-kindergarteners and services for
families of children from birth to age three - not now, but when the
state can afford it.
Hannah Lidman, senior policy associate with the Economic Opportunity Institute, says a growing body of research shows that helping young families is an investment in the state's future.
"All of these things over the course of a lifetime add up to a lot of
savings to the public, because we're not ending up spending money to
ameliorate problems that we could have addressed earlier in life."
One of the bills would include early learning in the state's basic
education mandate. Another requires the state to develop a plan for
birth-to-age-3 programs. All four bills already have passed one house
of the legislature.
Lidman says the state's current early learning programs are serving fewer than one in four of the children who are eligible.
"I think Washington State's legislature knows very well that we're not
doing enough, and they all want to do better. I think these pieces of
legislation are a commitment to doing better, when we have the funds to
One of the bills allows private donations for home visiting programs by
nurses and social workers to teen and other at-risk parents. The state
and communities usually fund these programs, but have cut back. Local
sheriffs and police departments say the programs do a lot to reduce
child abuse, according to Laura Wells, state director of the group Fight Crime, Invest in Kids.
"Law enforcement sees these evidence-based home visiting programs as
one of the most powerful crime-prevention tools available to them."
The bills (HB 2687, HB 2731, HB 2867 and SB 6759) are being heard today
at 1:30 p.m. by the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee.