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Washington State To Spend More On Early Learning Than It Ever Has

UPDATED

[UPDATE (July 8, 2015) U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan congratulated Washington state legislators and Gov. Jay Inslee for their increased investement Tuesday. A spokesperson for Duncan said, by email, that the secretary's congratulations were not offered lightly. "In this case, it's because this legislation is so far-reaching and affects so many kids," the spokesperson said.

Here's the bulk of Duncan's statement:

"I want to congratulate Gov. Jay Inslee, educators and other leaders in Washington state on the Early Start Act, which will improve early learning opportunities for over 48,000 children, building on the successes the state's Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant. It's a huge step toward a vision for a comprehensive early learning system that will make Washington a leader in doing the right thing for our youngest children. I hope more states will answer the President Obama's call to expand early learning opportunities - and that Congress will support them."]

After much back and forth, Washington state legislators and Gov. Jay Inslee agreed in the final days of June to spend $158 million on early education in the state's 2015-17 biennial budget cycle, the most it has ever spent. 

A bill passed on June 30, the Early Start Act, calls for $98 million in spending on programs ranging from quality rating system improvements to increased early educator training. The bill also calls for free coaching to be provided to child-care providers.

"We applaud the bipartisan group of legislators who led the way to this historic moment and paired the Early Start Act with the largest new investment in early learning the state has ever adopted," said Jon Gould, director of the Seattle-based Children's Alliance.

In many ways, the bill's requirements parallel the state's existing plans as laid out in its federal Race To The Top-Early Learning Challenge grant ($60 million over four years, awarded in December 2011). That grant included accelerating the application of an existing child care quality rating system, which caught some teachers off-guard, according to a December study by the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank. (We wrote about that study, from New America's Early Ed division, in January.) The state has since rejiggered its plan to take teacher feedback into consideration, and the new bill will provide for more coaching and support, according to the report.

In addition to the new funding called for by the Early Start Act, legislators agreed to another $60 million in the state budget for early learning, including money for the continued expansion of Washington's growing state preschool program. Existing law calls for the preschool program to become an entitlement, that is, to be made available to all income-qualified children by 2018-19.

Though the program is small, a January study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy showed that it does have a notable positive effect on participants' academics.

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