Our Voice: Lawmakers miss chance to improve pre-K access

Pasco School District’s request for $7.5 million for its new pre-kindergarten center did not make it into the state’s capital budget. That’s disappointing, exasperating and sad considering the desperate need for preschool programs around the state.

A recent study by the National Institute for Early Education Research ranked Washington 33rd in the country for state preschool access for low-income 4-year-olds. The dismal standing means the number of children enrolled in state early childhood education programs is way too low, and not enough children are ready for school when they start kindergarten.

If the state had approved construction money for Pasco’s new pre-kindergarten center, it would have been an asset to the community and would have helped the state boost its preschool opportunities. As it is, Pasco school officials will have to figure out other ways to proceed.

Plans for the new center showed it had the potential to serve up to 900 in a half-day program, or 450 if it was all day. The Pasco School District already has property for the center, but asked the state for $7.5 million to construct the building. The district had planned to match that amount, mostly from levy dollars and other school accounts.

Pasco voters would not have been asked to support another bond measure.

While not getting the construction money is a setback, Pasco school officials should not give up their goal of getting this building constructed and program started.

They say many students are at least two years behind before they even step foot into a classroom. They also say nearly 80 percent of kindergartners in the state meet literacy standards when they start school, compared to 15 percent of Pasco kindergartners. In math, 53 percent of kindergartners statewide start out ready, while in Pasco it is 4 percent.

That’s a gap the state should have tried to close.

When children are behind in school, it is easy for them to get discouraged and feel miserable all the way through high school. Many national studies conducted over the years show an investment in early education results in less tax money spent later on. Those who struggle in school are more likely to drop out, end up in jail or become dependent on the government.

Some people bristle at the thought of parents not doing their job at home and preparing their children for school. But complaining about poor parenting does not solve the problem.

The reality is that it is up to the school’s to educate the children, and if preschoolers are not getting what they need at home, it helps everyone in the long run to teach them the skills they need before they start school.

Adequate preschool opportunities are lacking in Washington compared to other states around the country. Lawmakers had an opportunity to really make a difference in Pasco and in state standings, but didn’t take it.

What a shame.