Monday, April 29, 2013

National preschool rankings find Washington stays the course despite economy

Washington’s commitment to early learning stands out in an annual report issued today about the state of pre-kindergarten (pre-k) education around the nation. 

The State of Preschool 2012 report, issued by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), noted three nationwide trends:
  • State funding for pre-K decreased by more than half a billion dollars, the largest one-year drop ever.
  • Enrollment in state-funded pre-K has stalled after a decade of growth.
  • State funding per child fell to $3,841, down from the national average of more than $5,000 per child in 2001-02.
Here’s how Washington’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), administered by the state Department of Early Learning (DEL), fared:
  • Quality: ECEAP met nine out of 10 benchmarks for program quality. The 10th benchmark would require ECEAP lead teachers to have a bachelor’s degree. DEL currently requires an associate or higher degree with 30 quarter credits of ECE. 
  • Access: ECEAP currently has space for 8,391 children to be enrolled at a time. 
    • Washington is serving 8 percent of 4-year-olds, ranking 31st in the nation for access.
    • Washington is serving 1 percent of 3-year-olds, ranking 19th in the nation for access.
  • Resources: Washington ranked seventh in the nation for state per-child funding, at an average of $6,600 per child.

ECEAP has been serving Washington preschoolers for 26 years with education, nutrition, health and family support services. ECEAP serves 3- and 4-year-olds whose families’ incomes are at or below 110 percent of the federal poverty level ($25,355 for a family of four in 2012). Nearly two-thirds of ECEAP families are at or below annual incomes of $17,880 for a family of four. Additional children may be eligible based on developmental risk factors or environmental risk factors (such as child protective services involvement); children qualifying for special education; and children in foster care. 

ECEAP currently serves 8,391 children at a time. Combined with the 10,600 federal Head Start slots going to ECEAP-eligible students, Washington serves 37 percent of ECEAP-eligible children. ECEAP is slated to become a statutory entitlement in school year 2018-19, at which time all eligible preschoolers would be entitled to enroll.

“Washington’s rankings highlight the need to continue serving our state’s most vulnerable families and to increase access to ECEAP,” said DEL Director Bette Hyde. “ECEAP has proven to be a cost-effective way to prepare our youngest learners for success in school and in life. We must continue to fund ECEAP at a per-child cost that allows ECEAP sites to maintain quality while serving more eligible children.”

Gov. Jay Inslee proposed a $35 million increase to ECEAP funding in the 2013-15 operating budget to improve program quality and access. The House of Representatives and Senate currently are negotiating their final 2013-15 state operating budget. Both chambers proposed an increase in state-funded preschool funding.

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