Lack of access to high-quality early learning and childcare was one of the main reasons why a recent family happiness study showed American parents are 12 percent unhappier than American non-parents.
Perhaps such contentment feels so unattainable because the average yearly Seattle-area childcare costs more than a year’s tuition at the University of Washington. But hold on — help is on the way: The new guide Strong Start for Strong Cities shows U.S. city leaders how to develop affordable and effective early learning programs.
This guide, developed by MomsRising, the National League of Cities and School Readiness Consulting, aims to help mayors, city council members, school boards and other city leaders create and sustain affordable preschool programs to help children succeed. The 67-page handbook features the latest early learning research, best practices for cities to model and stories from parents, providers and other concerned citizens.
Lauren Hipp, MomsRising’s early learning campaign director, says the guide is a response to both stagnation at the federal level and to the groundswell of grassroots support MomsRising has seen for communities to offer such programs nationwide.
“There’s room for local leadership to expand access to early learning,” she says. “There’s a lot of power in showing examples that are working in other places; it helps local leaders see [solutions] themselves.”
To spread the word, MomsRising is organizing members to hand-deliver the guide to their local leaders. Starting this month, these “delivery events” will occur in 20 cities highlighted in the guide for innovative early childhood development programs; Seattle’s delivery is planned for August 20 and will include Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle Councilmember Tim Burgess.
Hipp encourages parents to take such opportunities to tell politicians about their struggles with finding affordable child care and preschool programs.
“Leaders are a little disconnected from our stories,” she says. “Sharing your story is really powerful in a way for a leader to emotionally understand an issue. Then that leader carries your story with them while they work [to change our current systems].”
In Strong Start for Cities, one Washington state mother, Amy, shares how her family of four was forced to move out of Arlington because the local $300-a-week preschool was too steep amid rising rent prices. Because of the move, her husband’s daily commute will now be three hours round trip by public transportation. “But,” Amy says, “now we’ll [be able to] afford preschool and rent.”
Leading by example
Strong Start for Cities spotlights Seattle, specifically the city’s successful preschool levy program. The Seattle Preschool Program, which started last year, is an evidence-based universal pre-K program in the city of Seattle.
Unfortunately, just this month, Mayor Murray announced he’s shrinking the number of children involved in the pilot program because the city will begin paying involved partners more money and, he says, has had trouble finding additional providers to participate.
Such news makes the arrival of The Strong Start for Cities even more timely. “By telling our stories, we can build the momentum needed to provide real change for all families,” says Hipp. “It’s time to make sure the littlest learners have all the opportunities in the world to make a great start.”