State pre-kindergarten program hits milestone, enrolls 150,000th child

OLYMPIA – This month, the state’s pre-kindergarten program for low-income children and families enrolled its 150,000th child since its 1985 creation. The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) provides free preschool education, family support, and health and nutrition services to low-income 3- and 4-year-old children and their families.

First created by the Legislature to expand the benefits of the federal Head Start program to more children, ECEAP promotes school success by building children’s skills in language, reading and writing, math and science, getting along with others, and participating in a group. The Department of Early Learning (DEL) provides ECEAP services through 40 contractors, who include educational service districts, school districts, community colleges, local governments and nonprofits. For the 2009-2010 school year, ECEAP has 8,053 slots for children in 38 of 39 Washington counties at about 280 different sites.

To find the nearest site, read this PDF.

“Children living in poverty face more challenges in entering school ready to learn, whether it’s exposure to books and reading in their homes or an unchecked medical issue,” said DEL Director Bette Hyde. “By providing comprehensive services, ECEAP helps us balance the scale, build healthy families and support kids to thrive and succeed.”

In the 2007-09 biennium, the Legislature and Gov. Chris Gregoire expanded ECEAP by a historic 38 percent. Due to the state economic climate, the program was decreased by 173 slots in 2010. Because of ECEAP, thousands of low-income Washington children have received coordinated services since 1985 that help them enter school ready to learn, including:

• 60,000 children received dental screenings and follow-up treatment if necessary.

• 30,000 children were helped to become up-to-date with their well-child exams.

• More than 50,000 children improved their English language skills before kindergarten.

• More than 6,000 children who had serious behavior concerns when beginning the year exhibited age-appropriate behavior before kindergarten.

Washington is one of only three states in the nation that provide these comprehensive services in a state pre-kindergarten program. Parents and families are supported as their children’s first and most important teachers. They are encouraged to be involved in the classroom and program decision-making, given access to parenting education and skill development, and supported in family goal-setting and referrals to community services.


The Washington State Department of Early Learning is a Governor’s Cabinet-level state agency created in 2006 to bring heightened visibility and focus to early learning and help all Washington children reach their full potential. DEL oversees the state-funded preschool program (ECEAP), child care licensing, child care subsides, and other initiatives and programs to support parents as children’s first and most important teachers.

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