One of the hottest topics for 2014 in the area of education will likely be the funding of early childhood education.
President Obama kicked off 2013 by calling for universal preschool in his State of the Union Address. Since then, Senator Patty Murray and other members of Congress have sponsored preschool legislation, as has Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess.
It's a hot topic now, with new research showing that investments in early learning pay off later on. Children who receive a strong early educational foundation are less likely to fall behind in school. They stick with their education, through high school and college, which leads to higher wages, greater job opportunities and overall economic and personal stability.
But research also shows that a decline in funding means less availability of preschool programs. There’s concern that this decline worsens the opportunity gap, so that some students enter kindergarten far behind their peers.
Latest early education initiatives
President Obama set out a federal-state partnership, basically a new funding stream to improve and expand preschool opportunities, and complement programs such as Head Start.
Senator Patty Murray, who was a preschool teacher, co-sponsored the legislation that is a follow-up to Obama’s proposal. It would provide free preschool to children from low and moderate income families and increase the qualifications and pay for preschool teachers.
Unlike many other ideas floating around congress, there is bipartisan support for universal, affordable preschool, though with the current budget climate it is unclear whether this legislation will pass. Congress will be holding hearings early this year.
At the state level, in his supplemental budget, Governor Inslee proposed additional funding for early childhood education and assistance programs. The Washington State legislature will review this, as part of their budget deliberations this month.
At the local level, last September, the Seattle City Council passed a resolution for high quality, affordable, universal preschool for all three and four-year-olds. The initiative is currently in the planning stages, with an action plan expected before the City Council by April.
Regardless of what happens on the state and federal fronts, Seattle is positioning itself to be a pilot city for universal preschool and we will see the results of that in 2014.
What to look for in a preschool:
- Opportunities for play: At this age, children learn through play, so you’ll want to find a preschool that offers ample opportunities for creative play.
- Staff support and attitude: Is the staff happy, are they well trained with opportunities for additional training and do they have a say in curriculum development? Happy teachers breed happy learners.
- What’s important to you?: Do you want a school that follows a particular educational philosophy, such as Montessori or Reggio Emilia? One that offers foreign language immersion or a focus on nature?
- Is the physical space bright and cheerful? Are parents welcome in the classroom, within reason?
- Policies on potty training and discipline
Preschool fairs are a great way to gain exposure to lots of different options. Once you’ve settled on some preschools that interest you, make arrangements to visit them.
Regardless of the program or focus, you want a welcoming preschool where students, teachers and parents seem happy. If kids have a positive early introduction to learning, this will carry them forward to kindergarten and beyond.