OLYMPIA—When Washington’s youngest learners can access high-quality early learning experiences, they are more prepared to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. In a press conference Thursday, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced his plans to ensure equitable access to these critical foundations.
“Our youngest learners do not have equitable access to high-quality early learning experiences, and our kindergarten readiness data reflect these opportunity gaps,” said State Superintendent Chris Reykdal. “These proposals aim to close some of these gaps and address some of the financial barriers that impact our students and families. This is an opportunity to better support and prepare our youngest learners to thrive in school.”
In the press conference, Reykdal discussed his proposals to expand the Imagination Library of Washington, a free program for families that is proven to enhance early literacy; to remove out-of-pocket student and family costs for school supplies; as well as plans to enhance the state’s Transitional Kindergarten (TK) program. Together, these proposals will help close gaps to resources and opportunities for Washington’s youngest learners and their families.
“It is so important that we support our youngest learners and provide them with all the resources they need to have a successful and fulfilling education,” said Sen. Claire Wilson (30th Legislative District). “That’s why I am proud to stand in support of Superintendent Reykdal’s proposals to decrease barriers to education for scholars across our state. Each of these programs will allow scholars more opportunity to engage in their education and are a huge step forward for Washington’s youngest learners.”
Expanding Washington’s Imagination Library
Exposure to books and reading at a young age has proven connections to high achievement in literacy, learning, and overall educational outcomes. Washington’s Imagination Library program, an affiliate of an international program founded by Dolly Parton in 1995, supports early literacy by providing a book once a month, every month, to children from birth until age 5 at no cost to families.
Washington’s Imagination Library program is continuing to expand with investments of emergency relief funds by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). OSPI has submitted a proposal to the Governor and the Legislature for consideration during the 2023 Legislative Session to sustain the program and support expansion to the remainder of the state.
“This program is a powerful, effective force helping to uplift Washington early learners, preparing them for school and inspiring their love of reading,” said Brooke Fisher-Clark, Executive Director of the Imagination Library of Washington. “OSPI’s request for continued program funding would empower local and state partners to continue offering this program to their early learning populations and pave the way for child success and statewide transformation.”
If the Legislature fully funds OSPI’s request, all early learners in Washington’s 39 counties will be able to receive free books on into the future. For every dollar invested in early learning programs like the Imagination Library, there is an average return of $3–$17.
Eliminating Out-of-Pocket School Supply Costs for Families
Across the U.S., families spend hundreds of dollars each year on school supplies, school clothes, backpacks, and other materials to support their child’s engagement in school. Many schools require students to pay out-of-pocket to provide consumable classroom supplies like pencils, markers, paper, notebooks, tissues, and snacks – creating a financial barrier for many families.
In a proposal that OSPI has submitted to the Governor and the Legislature for consideration during the 2023 Legislative Session, OSPI is requesting that the state provide additional funding for consumable classroom supplies. In exchange for this funding, OSPI intends to write rules that prohibit schools from requiring families to contribute consumable school supplies like pencils, markers, paper, and tissues.
Enhancing Transitional Kindergarten Programs
Early learning experiences support children with kindergarten readiness, but access to these foundational programs is inequitable. Transitional Kindergarten (TK) is a program provided by school districts to 4-year-olds entering kindergarten within the next year who need additional preparation for a successful school start.
TK programs are required by state law to follow the same requirements as full-day kindergarten programs, including having certificated teachers, maintaining developmentally appropriate learning environments, and more. Last school year, 93 Washington school districts operated TK programs, serving just over 3,100 students (roughly 2–3% of Washington’s population of 4- and 5-year-olds).
OSPI initiated rulemaking earlier this year to more clearly define the purpose and eligibility requirements for TK programs, to reinforce the requirements for screening children before they enter a TK program, and to require school districts to align their programs with OSPI’s quality standards.
OSPI will also clarify and build out additional data and reporting requirements for districts implementing TK programs, mirroring the reporting requirements for the rest of the K–12 system. OSPI intends to adopt new rules after the 2023 Legislative Session to allow for any changes made to the state’s TK program in statute.
“Transitional Kindergarten has served a critical role, meeting the needs of dozens of underserved Walla Walla children and families who either don’t qualify for our Head Start and ECEAP [Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program] programs, or who lack access to the limited private and not-for-profit early learning experiences available in our region,” said Dr. Wade Smith, Superintendent of Walla Walla Public Schools. “Without our high quality, age-appropriate TK program, these students often enter kindergarten with a sizable social and emotional deficit; one that research shows can take years of additional support and significant resources to help close.”
The proposals to ensure equitable access to strong foundations for Washington’s youngest learners is the seventh, and final, in a series of transformational budget and policy proposals that Superintendent Reykdal has revealed since July called Washington State Innovates: K–12 Education for the 21st Century and Beyond.