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More Kids, Less Money for WA Early Learning Programs

March 26, 2009

Seattle - Early learning programs like Head Start will get a budget boost from federal stimulus dollars. For Washington, that's both good news and bad.

About 12,000 children are in Head Start programs around the state - and the state-run equivalent, Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) serves another 7,000. The Washington Legislature is expected to recommend less money for ECEAP, although its waiting list has more than doubled in the past year.

Marty Jacobs, family services director for Child Care Resources, says, rather than using the federal money to expand early learning, state lawmakers see it as a chance to cut back.

"They're looking for all kinds of opportunities to cut state spending, in the hope that the stimulus or other federal monies will pick up the slack. But the fact is, we need more services, not just to substitute one service for another."

ECEAP helps children in low-income families get ready for school. It also helps keep their parents involved in the process, according to Jacobs.

"I think these services are essential for children, and for their families. They provide excellent family support, and really help families provide a great beginning for their children."

If state funding is cut, Jacob warns, the ECEAP programs will lose federal matching money that, for some, could mean closing their doors. Counties like Spokane and Yakima would be especially hard-hit. ECEAP was created, she explains, because Head Start programs don't have the capacity to serve all the families who need them.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA