Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Community leaders support early education

Last week I traveled to Olympia to attend a public hearing for a bill I support. If you haven’t been to the legislature during the legislative session, I recommend that you make a trip before the session ends on March 11. The “other side” is there and on display (just last week there was a massive pro-life rally and an Evergreen Freedom Foundation rally on the Capitol steps) and we want to show lawmakers that we have just as much passion and conviction as they do, not to mention better ideas.

The hearing I attended focused on early education, which these days includes education from a child’s very earliest days to age five because researchers have found that giving children a rich environment when they are very young is crucial to their success in school and in life. My legislator, Representative Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), sponsored the bill that most attendees were speaking up for, HB 2731, or the Ready for School Act. This bill proposes making early education a part of basic education and therefore constitutionally protected from budget cuts. We can absolutely see this year that programs that aren’t protected by either a constitutional or federal mandate are vulnerable in times of revenue declines. Goodman’s bill also directs the state Department of Early Learning to create “community-based services and programs for children ages birth to three years and their parents and caregivers.”

The hearing room was already fairly crowded with members of child advocacy groups and other activists, but heads turned when a pair of burly Mason County sheriffs walked into the room. Their testimony was one of the reasons that I was glad to have made the trek down to Olympia. It’s great to have the opportunity to hear from people who can see the direct effects of legislation.

The first sheriff described to the House Early Learning Committee members the cycle of events that he has seen play out over and over in his decades in public safety. The sheriff regularly goes into “troubled homes” where small children live. Years later, he sees these same kids getting into trouble themselves on the streets. A little later, he sees many of these kids end up in jail. The law enforcer took the time to testify that day because he wants to see this cycle broken. He wants those small children to have a better future, and he believes that early education and training for young children's parents will help them get it.

The second sheriff testified about a successful program for teenage moms that he has seen that is similar to those proposed in the Ready for School Act. When this program for teens was eliminated due to budget cuts, he saw the negative effects: the teens “moved away” from school and the positive lessons that they were learning about parenting. They were left to become another sad teen mother statistic.

A bit later, a businesswoman testified, in part to rebut the anti-tax rhetoric that floats around her business community. She told the room that her typical response to conservative tax critics is that it is important where our tax money goes. Money spent on preparing the future workforce, that is, early childhood education, is invaluable.

The most imaginative testimony came from a woman who sits on the board of many non-profit organizations. She allowed us to see for ourselves what school is like for kids from a “troubled home:”
Imagine if you were at your first day of kindergarten. You can’t sit still during circle time. You take toys away from other kids. You can’t wait to play with the dollhouse or blocks and get in trouble with the teacher for jumping up and leaving the group. The teacher knows by the end of the day that you won’t graduate from high school...Imagine knowing at age five that you are already expected to fail.
The Ready for School Act easily passed out of the House Early Learning Committee will be discussed in the House Ways and Means Committee tomorrow. This committee will consider the financial effects of the bill and if they’ve got good data available, they’ll see that early learning more than pays for itself. Protecting it in the state budget as a part of basic education will ensure that during future bad times Washington will continue to help families give their kids a strong start, which is good for our society.

The work of Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago economics professor James Heckman makes the decision clear:
Professor Heckman studied decades worth of data from early childhood development programs that break the cycle of disadvantage by giving disadvantaged children and their families resources for the early nurturing, learning experiences and physical health that lead to future success. Professor Heckman’s value analysis of these programs reveals that investing in early childhood development for disadvantaged children provides a high return on investment to society through increased personal achievement and social productivity.
Early education is the most basic type of education and should be included in the state's definition of the basic education that it provides.


Blogger Piper Scott said...

"just last week there was a massive pro-life rally and an Evergreen Freedom Foundation rally on the Capitol steps..."

Wow - who knew? EFF had a rally last week on the Capitol steps? Dude, like I work at the place, and nobody told me! Maybe that's because I was in Massachusetts covering the Brown/Coakley Senate race and actually trying to get the news straight and first hand.

Did you see the rally - perhaps talk with someone who attended? Or are you just pullin' it from your hat?

Maybe all you did is look at a schedule and make an assumption, which, as you know, makes a you-know-what out of you-know-who. You could have made a phone call to verify, or would that have been too hard?

Journalism 101 is fact checking - might try it sometime.

The Piper

January 26, 2010 2:56 PM  
Blogger Jason Black said...

I'd support a bill that offered to pay a parent to stay home and provide that rich, nurturing environment during the first 5 years of life. If two parents are working, let one of them be working in a way that betters the world by giving their kid the right start, rather than slaving away at some minimum wage job that mostly goes towards "park-and-play" daycare anyway.

January 26, 2010 4:28 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

Piper, the buses in front of the Capitol collecting swarms of self-righteous people (like yourself) carrying anti-abortion signs were a dead giveaway.

Jason, I totally agree that we need to make it more possible for parents to afford to stay home to raise their children, but even if parents are at home providing a rich environment for their young kids, these children still benefit from the social skills they learn at preschool.

Unfortunately, many parents who do stay home with their kids during the day don't have the parenting skills to provide the stimulation and experiences that very young children need. HB 2731 includes programs that work with parents (many of them teenaged or low-income) to give them better parenting skills. Check out Paul Tough's "Whatever it Takes" about how the Harlem Children's Zone focused on the child and his/her parents from pregnancy through kindergarten in order to improve Harlem kids' success in grades 1-12.

The key here is "quality" preschool. As you noted, "park and play" is a different story.

February 1, 2010 12:04 PM  

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