To raise quality of early learning, proposed carrots and a stick

The Seattle TimesJanuary 14, 2014 

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Preschoolers use beans in a counting exercise in YMCA child development programs. Preschool programs are credited with helping children succeed when they get to regular school.

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Enrolling a child in a high-quality child care can easily cost $15,000-$20,000 a year, especially in the Seattle area. Most families can’t afford that, even if they qualify for federal or state subsidies.

Throughout Washington state, only about 30 percent of children attend programs that have earned a score of 3 or better on the state’s voluntary child-care rating system, said state Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina.

Yet a growing body of research suggests that quality matters when it comes to preparing children for kindergarten — and that low-income children may have the most to gain.

So how can Washington get higher-quality care for more of its youngest residents?

In a bill introduced Tuesday, a bipartisan group of legislators are proposing a mix of carrots and sticks. The prime sponsors are Hunter, who leads the House Appropriations Committee, and state Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, chair of the Senate’s education committee.

One carrot: A sliding-scale for the size of subsidies that early learning programs can receive. The higher a program’s rating on the state’s 1-to-5 rating system, the bigger the subsidy. The largest subsidy – for a score of 5 – wouldn’t reach the $15,000-a-year level, but Hunter said it would be 10-20 percent higher than it is now.

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