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Bill to boost preschool quality passes out of House committee

by caprecord
Photo by Barnaby Wasson via Flickr.

A bill that aims to improve kindergarten readiness for low-income students by boosting the quality of providers that accept state subsidies passed 8-3 out of the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee.

The Early Start Act requires childcare and preschool providers who receive state subsidies for low-income families to take part in the state’s Early Achievers Program. The bill would apply to providers who accept subsidies from the Head Start, ECEAP and Working Connections Child Care programs.

The program would rate the providers on how well they get kids ready for kindergarten, and also provides additional training for employees.

In response to several concerns brought up at a hearing last week, the Early Learning and Human Services Committee adopted an amendment that would allow the Department of Early Learning to take into account accreditation programs for private preschools. The amendment also opens ECEAP to faith-based providers.

The committee also adopted another amendment that would allow tribal-run preschools to provide information on kindergarten-readiness directly to parents interested in enrolling, rather than posting their information on the Department of Early Learning website.

Bill sponsor and committee chairwoman Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle, said many child care providers miss chances to improve the early learning of children as young as infants.

“It’s just providing that information and education to them so that those babies have a learning-rich environment for the first few years. We know how critical it is,” she said.

Rep. Elizabeth Scott, R-Monroe, voted against the bill, listing a number of concerns.

“It’s too top-down, top-heavy. This could have the unintended consequence of creating a shortage of day care options for parents particularly in high poverty areas,” Scott said.

Scott also had concerns that the Early Start Act would be a step toward requiring pre-kindergarten programs for all children in the state.

However, Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, says she’s a strong supporter of the bill, saying while she shares some of the concerns of skeptics, it’s important to ensure quality programs for children.

“I also believe that if we are spending millions and millions and hundreds of millions of dollars subsidizing child care, we want a return on our investment. We don’t want to throw our money down a hole,” Walsh said.

Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma, voted against the bill, saying that he would prefer if there were a sunset clause that would force legislators to review the changes and make sure they are effective and equitable to all children in the state.

“Nobody has bad intent, I just want to make sure that we get it right,” Sawyer said.