SEATTLE — Preschool provided to every child in Seattle — that’s the ambitious goal. It would cost millions, but supporters argue it would make a huge difference in ensuring that all students are ready to learn when they start school.
Supporters, who attended a public hearing Wednesday morning on the proposal, cited several studies demonstrating that in cities and even countries where it is offered, students do much better later on. That early boost, especially for low-income kids, translates into better test scores, better graduation rates, fewer dropouts, and less juvenile delinquency.
“We’ve got several thousand children in Seattle who are not prepared to enter kindergarten,” Burgess said. “When they start behind before they’ve even walked through the school door to their classroom, there are likely not going to catch up.”
The plan would be for the city to offer preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds. Because it would be heavily subsidized for families who cannot afford it, and even free in some cases, the hope is it would attract as many enrollees as possible.
“We know exactly what to do, and the issue is, are we willing to do it? Or would we rather live with the status quo,” Burgess asked.
Burgess hasn’t yet identified how the city would pay for this big new program, which could end up costing tens of millions of dollars a year. Most likely, it would involve going out to voters for a property tax hike.
“We either pay early and reap huge benefits, or we’re all going to pay later, through criminal justice costs, social interventions, all of those things that are the result of not educating our kids in the first place,” he said.
At Wednesday’s meeting, several showed up in support, but there was some caution. Unless this new preschool offering has good teachers and a good curriculum, some said, it will just be wasting everyone’s time.
“If we are to get the crime prevention impact for those kids, the programs absolutely have to be of high quality,” said Laura Wells, the state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. “Low quality child care, low quality early learning does not reduce crime down the road.”
There’s also a huge logistical question. Where will all these 3- and 4-years-olds go? Apparently not to Seattle Public Schools.
“We do not have the classrooms,” said Seattle School Board member Michael DeBell, “and we will not have classrooms in the numbers that would be needed for a large-scale delivery of early childhood education for some time because of the rapid growth that we’ve seen in our enrollment.”
The current plan is to have kids attend preschools that would be run by private operators. Basically, that happens now with preschool where the school district is not the primary provider.
The Seattle City Council is expected to vote later this month on the proposal.