Dozens of preschool students raced through the Capitol Thursday as part of a push to ask lawmakers to invest more in early learning.
“We’re here to remind legislators to start and finish strong for our littlest learners,” organizer Lauren Hipp said. “Early learning really set our kids up for success, not only in school, but in life in general.”
Before the toddlers took off running in their sweatbands and race bibs — all No. 1 — they listened while Gov. Jay Inslee, budget writers Sen. Andy Hill and Rep. Ross Hunter and other lawmakers talked about ways to boost spending.
“I don’t think they were that interested in what they had to say, but hopefully they’ll be interested in what the lawmakers do for these kids,” executive director of the state’s Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance (ECEAP) programs Joel Ryan said.
Mostly, they focused on House Bill 1491, the so-called Early Start Act. Childcare and preschool providers who accept state subsidies for low-income families would be required to participate in the Early Achievers Program.
Right now, the program is free, but voluntary. It provides training to childcare facilities and state- and federally-funded preschool program, such as Head Start, ECEAP and Working Connections Child Care.
By requiring participation, lawmakers hope to improve kindergarten readiness for low-income students. “If we get our way,” Inslee told the runners. “We’re going to have more kids who are ready for kindergarten, more kids who do well in first grade, more kids who go into STEM fields, more kids who graduate.”
The measure passed 67-31 in the state House and is under consideration in the Senate. It was voted out of a committee in the chamber Wednesday. Prime sponsor Rep. Ruth Kagi said during the event she expects a hearing in Senate Ways and Means on Friday.