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Toddlers, Parents March in Olympia for Early Education

The Legislature is considering a bill that would expand eligibility for the state's pre-K program. (Washington State House Republicans/Flickr)
The Legislature is considering a bill that would expand eligibility for the state's pre-K program. (Washington State House Republicans/Flickr)
January 31, 2018

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The marchers may be little, but their cause is not.

Toddlers and their parents are gathering in Olympia Wednesday to rally for their education.

Childhood learning advocates want greater access and more investment in the state's pre-K program, known as the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program or ECEAP.

But Lauren Hipp, a member of the Early Learning Action Alliance, says ECEAP isn't reaching as many families as it could.

She says eligibility for the program is one of the lowest in the country. Families have to make 110 percent of the federal poverty level or less to qualify.

"We have a growing opportunity gap in the state and, to really meet the needs of children, we need to increase eligibility so that more families and more children can be served by this highly effective program,” she states. “So we're asking that they increase eligibility to 185 percent of federal poverty."

House Bill 2659 would do this.

A bill in the state Senate would provide flexibility in determining eligibility for ECEAP.

State Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-Seattle), chair of the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee, will be speaking at the event Wednesday. It begins at 10 a.m. on the north steps of the Legislative Building.

Hipp says early education has a wide range of benefits for children as they get older.

"Higher graduation rates, better life outcomes,” she states. “We know that they're going to do better social-emotionally. And programs like ECEAP show that those gains in math and reading persist into third and fifth grade. We're going to get them into school more ready to be successful in both school and in life."

Hipp says many lawmakers have voiced their support for early childhood education. However, she notes this is happening against the backdrop of conversations on the McCleary decision on school funding, and potential funding changes at the federal level.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA