In recent years, Washington state has made important strides in investing in public education and early learning. In the coming years, these changes will be put to a crucial test: Will they help children, especially children of color, surmount the barriers to quality K-12 learning and lifelong achievement?
For KIDS COUNT in Washington’s new “Ensuring All Kids Have an Opportunity to Succeed” brief (a part of the State of Washington Kids 2018 series), we asked local education leader Matt Charlton, superintendent of Manson School District, “What would it take to make sure all kids have a path to success in life?”
Thanks to local voter levies and to the state’s Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP), which provides high-quality preschool to kids with very low incomes, the Manson School District offers free preschool to every four-year-old residing within its boundaries. Charlton said his district looked at the data to make this decision. And he said that quality pre-kindergarten was the single best investment the school district could make “in terms of readying children for kindergarten and overcoming language and poverty barriers.”
All kids should get off to a strong start in school. Yet in Washington, kids of color face the greatest barriers to kindergarten readiness. Far too many families cannot afford high quality early learning, especially programs that have a track record in addressing racial disparities.
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Fortunately, our state has powerful tools for removing barriers to kindergarten readiness through ECEAP and robust quality standards in child care. Recent analysis by KIDS COUNT in Washington found that additional investments in ECEAP to serve more kids would dramatically reduce disparities in kindergarten readiness for kids of color.
Kids also need to be able to stay strong through elementary and middle school and finish strong through graduation and post-secondary enrollment. Yet, kids of color face the greatest barriers to success there, too.
Racial disparities persist in our education system because of systemic racism, including factors like inequitable funding between low-income and high-income schools, housing instability and racially disproportionate disciplinary practices.
For example, an extensive body of research shows that systemic barriers like living in poverty and having low socioeconomic status are leading predictors of whether or not kids graduate on time. Kids of color face the greatest barriers to on-time graduation. American Indian, Pacific Islander, Black, Latinx, and mixed race students are two to three times more likely to live in poverty in Washington state than their white and Asian counterparts.
More public investments are needed to address these kinds of disparities. While recent investments in public education and early learning are an important step, more needs to be done to address racial disparities in education and to ensure all kids, especially kids of color, have a path to success in school and life. State lawmakers, parents, educators and administrators should consider supporting the following steps to boost success of children in school and in life:
- Expand the reach and flexibility of the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program and invest in affordable access to quality child care, including investing in family, friend, and neighbor care.
- Expand the state need grant, which provides tuition assistance to all students with a household income below 70 percent of state median income, so all income-eligible students have an affordable path to a degree or certificate.
- Invest in local communities and school districts that are designing programs and policy solutions that remove barriers for students of color to thrive in school, including investing in school board trainings on race and racial equity, ensuring parents of color are included in the hiring of leadership staff and principal leaders, and taking other important steps to create accountability and make progress toward more equitable outcomes for students of color.