February 15, 8:13 AM click here to comment > 2
Early learning prepares children for success in school
At the core of the Families and Education Levy renewal is our goal that all students in Seattle will graduate from high school ready for college or a career. Our children deserve nothing less. If we are going to meet that challenge, we need to start at the beginning of a child’s life and provide them with comprehensive early learning programs.
At the 130 community meetings held last year as part of the Youth and Families Initiative, which brought over 3,000 members of the public together to discuss how to help our children succeed, we heard that improving early learning was a priority. We responded by shaping the new Families and Education Levy to include more funding for early learning programs, and to address other priorities identified by the public.
National research on early learning shows us that before entering kindergarten, low-income children are already falling behind their peers. Here in Seattle, this achievement gap begins before children enter preschool. What we’ve learned from the current Families and Education Levy investments is that some children enter preschool two to three years behind in their receptive English language skills. Many children also struggle in other developmental areas.
If we are to ensure that all Seattle students will succeed, we have to ensure that all children enter school with the social, emotional and academic skills they need to be successful. Current Levy investments work with families in their homes to promote early learning skills, provide preschool opportunities for low-income families, increase the quality of classrooms and preschool teachers through professional development, and provide kindergarten transition support. Increasing numbers of children have been meeting kindergarten readiness guidelines adopted by the City and its partners.
We need to not just continue those effective programs – we need to make sure they reach more preschool children, including those with the greatest needs. The new Families and Education Levy will expand its investments to include children served in less formal settings, such as home day care centers and those cared for by family members, friends, and neighbors (known as FFN care).
Specifically, we will build on the work of the Seattle Early Education Collaborative, which brings together existing efforts to coordinate a common strategy to help young children learn. Our efforts will include Seattle Step Ahead Preschools and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, which provides free or low-cost, high-quality, culturally and linguistically appropriate preschool services for eligible three- and four-year-olds and their families, as well as the Seattle Public Schools’ federally-funded Head Start preschool program. We will also include efforts to reach out to the family, friend, and neighbor caregivers, recognizing that informal home-based child care is an important part of early learning for many families.
The new Families and Education Levy also adds two new strategies for early learning. The first are health and mental health screening and services, to identify and meet children’s health and behavior needs as early as possible. Second is a kindergarten transition program, to ensure that children identified as struggling when they exit preschool are given the support they need to catch up and be successful in the early elementary grades.
If we are to close the achievement gap, we need to provide preschool teachers with the curriculum and professional development that can help them promote early literacy and math skills. Our levy renewal will help provide that training, and we will do so in the context of nurturing and emotionally supportive classrooms.
These programs will cost $60 million – the largest portion of the proposed Families and Education Levy renewal – and will serve incoming kindergarten students at the elementary schools that serve the greatest proportion of low-income children and families. Current programs reach less than 50 percent of the poorest children entering school. That’s not enough. We know what works to prepare these children for school, and we must give more of them the chance to start their education on a strong footing.
Overall, the Families and Education Levy has five recommended investment areas and strategies: Early Learning (birth to age 5), Elementary School (kindergarten to 5th grade), Middle School (6th to 8th grade), High School (9th to 12th grade) and Student Health. We need to fully fund the proposed Families and Education Levy efforts in each of these five areas if we are going to help our children succeed.
Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn