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New national data shows that state and federal policies fail to connect thousands of Washington state children to the opportunities they need for success in school and in life. Increasing our investment in early learning would yield big returns for our state and help all of our kids reach their full potential.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s latest KIDS COUNT® policy report, The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success, presents a strong case for investing in the early years of a child’s life. Decades of brain and child development research show that kids who enter kindergarten with below-average language and cognitive skills can catch up — but only if they are physically healthy and have strong social and emotional skills.
The report details how a child’s early development across critical areas of well-being is essential to make the effective transition into elementary school and for long-term school success. According to a newly released analysis, only 36 percent of children were on track in cognitive knowledge and skills, 56 percent in their physical well-being, 70 percent in their social and emotional growth and 74 percent in their level of school engagement. Clearly this trend is not moving in the right direction.
The story is more troubling for kids of color and those from low income backgrounds. The analysis shows that just 19 percent of third-graders in families with income below 200 percent of the poverty level and 50 percent of those in families with incomes above that level had developed age-appropriate cognitive skills. Just 14 percent of Black children and 19 percent of Latino children are on track in cognitive development.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Increasing our investment in early learning is one of the best ways to set all of our children up for lifelong success. Currently, in Washington state just three of every ten 3- and 4-year olds is enrolled in preschool programs, one of the worst enrollment rates in the country (see map).
We can connect more kids to preschool and other early learning opportunities by: