Preparing for Preschool

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Seattle Preschool Program
The following article was sent out in my City View Newsletter, which you can sign up to receive here.

Every child in our city deserves a strong and fair start. The Seattle City Council took another step today to provide one.

The Council voted unanimously this afternoon to approve the Seattle Preschool Program Implementation Plan (C.B. 118363). The vote marks the last major milestone before the opening of the first classrooms this September.

Over the next four years, the Seattle Preschool Program will make high-quality preschool available to thousands of our littlest learners.

Why is this important to our city?

Nearly a quarter of all schoolchildren in Seattle Public Schools can’t read at grade level in the third grade. This statistic is significantly worse for our African American, Hispanic, Native American and immigrant children. Not reading at grade level in the third grade is a very strong predictor that a child won’t graduate from high school.

Sadly, the disparities start even earlier than that.

Kindergarten teachers have presented to the Council about the marked difference in the readiness to learn between students who have attended a high-quality preschool and those who have not. The Seattle Preschool Program aims to eliminate this “readiness gap.”

Kids who attend high-quality preschool (when compared to their peers who do not):

  • Enter kindergarten better able to learn and with stronger “executive function” skills, like knowing how to perform tasks, play well with other kids, and follow simple directions;
  • Have higher graduation rates from high school and higher college entrance and graduation rates;
  • Earn more as adults; and
  • Have lower rates of teen pregnancy and better health outcomes.

After the voters approved the program with 69% support last November, City staff worked at a furious pace to write the detailed Implementation Plan, convening public meetings, a community advisory committee, and an interagency staff group to inform the final document.

During the Council’s consideration of the plan over the last five weeks, councilmembers received the latest research on the benefits of preschool, heard from preschool providers and partners from Seattle Public Schools and the State’s Department of Early Learning, and reviewed analysis by Council staff.

The final Implementation Plan passed today details the operational specifics of the program, including provider selection and student enrollment processes, tuition payment calculations, staff education supports, program evaluation, and instructor compensation, among other topics. The City will now initiate a competitive process to choose providers by the end of May. Enrollment will be organized centrally by the City and include extensive outreach to families.

The program will focus on placing classrooms in areas where public elementary schools have records of low academic achievement. It will prioritize the enrollment of four-year-olds over three-year-olds and will provide free tuition for families earning less than 300% of the Federal Poverty Level. Families with higher incomes will pay a progressively higher share based on a sliding scale.

I’m grateful for the investment that voters have made in this program and I look forward to celebrating its launch in September.

High-quality preschool, however, cannot be the only investment we make in our youngest children. We must offer other supports through the first years of life, with programs proven to be effective like the Nurse-Family Partnership.

The King County Executive has initiated another conversation about early childhood development called Best Starts for Kids. I will be working with my counterparts at the County as more details about this proposal become available.