Despite the economic downturn, Washington state’s education leaders say the time is right for improving the way children are prepared for kindergarten and beyond.
A draft plan for upgrading the state’s early learning system was presented to Gov. Chris Gregoire right before Thanksgiving and released for public comment Tuesday. The governor had requested the plan for potential action during the 2010 Legislature.
It includes a broad range of suggestions, including some that are free or low-cost and others that would be phased in over the next decade. The plan covers all aspects of preschool life, from health and nutrition to literacy and special needs.
“We have a governor who clearly prioritizes our youngest learners, and communities who understand the incredible amount of growth and development that happens in a child’s earliest years. This plan is a roadmap for coordinating the services and programs that prepare all kids for school and life,” said Washington Department of Early Learning Director Bette Hyde.
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The plan starts with heath care for pregnant women and extends through support for schools, children and families in third grade. The priorities outlined include:
• Improved training for early learning teachers.
• Better coordination for all preschool services from day care to health care and nutrition.
• Access by all families to high-quality, affordable child care and early education programs.
• Support for parents so they can reinforce their children’s early learning at home.
• A quality rating system for preschools throughout the state so families have the information they need to make the best choices for their children.
• All students being able to read by the end of 3rd grade.
One theme of the plan is to make the many state services for young children fit together more seamlessly, Hyde said.
“A lot of what is in the plan is already happening around the state – we need to coordinate and align investments and efforts,” said Nina Auerbach, president and CEO of Thrive by Five, a public-private partnership for early learning.
Auerbach said the plan includes new ideas for using existing federal dollars and applying for grants and matching dollars from private organizations.
“We are very much aware that we have to start cautiously, looking at ways to use dollars more creatively,” she said.
State Schools’ Chief Randy Dorn, the third leader of the project with Hyde and Auerbach, said the key to the plan is taking a longer view and understanding that the payoff from good school preparation is high school graduation and college and career success.
The draft plan is open to public comment through March.