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National praise, and a nudge to expand, for Seattle preschool program

February 12, 2019
Seattle Times

A well-respected national organization recently gave Seattle’s preschool program a much deserved pat on the back.

The Seattle program has the highest quality among Pre-K programs in 40 large U.S. cities, according to a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University in partnership with nonprofit policy advocacy group CityHealth.

Seattle’s preschool program merits high marks for teacher quality and training, student-teacher ratios and class sizes, and ongoing efforts toward quality improvement. The program gets justified low marks, however, for participation.

This high-quality program is only worth the tax money spent to keep it open if it spends that money wisely, educating as many children as possible. About 1,500 students are enrolled in the program this year, just under an enrollment goal of more than 1,600 this school year. By the 2025-26 school year, the city plans to increase enrollment to 2,500 students.

The report also commends Seattle for offering mental-health and physical-health services at its pre-K sites. Few of the cities studied provide critical health screenings, including vision and hearing, to the children in the preschool programs, as Seattle does. Others are clearly missing an opportunity Seattle clearly recognizes to get children started on the right path toward academic success and good health.

Not surprisingly, the report dings Seattle’s excellent program for not reaching enough kids. The program enrolls just about 13 percent of Seattle’s 3-and-4-year-old population, which totals about 12,000 children. That’s something the voters intend to fix by passing an increase in the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Program levy last fall. More than half of the money from the levy — about $341.8 million — is aimed at expanding Seattle’s preschool program.