The Governor’s 2010 supplemental budget, released today, is disastrous for Washington’s children. Among millions of dollars worth of cuts to every kind of basic service, the cuts to early learning and K-12 education are especially tragic. Here’s why.
First off, the Governor’s budget completely eliminates the state’s Career and Wage Ladder program. The Ladder is the only state early learning program that has not only been studied, but proven to increase the quality of early learning and care. Half the Ladder’s funding for came from federal – not state – sources intended to improve early learning programs. So how does the Governor manage to cut the program anyway? With budgetary sleight of hand.
Last year, the Legislature allocated $1.5 million of state funds ($750K per year in each of 2009 and 2010) to the Ladder. Add in $1.5 million in federal stimulus funds, and it’s a $3 million investment. But in this year’s budget, the Governor essentially says no state funds have been spent, only federal. So, all state money can now be cut, which eliminates the Ladder completely. Unfair? Yes. Legal? Probably. Moral? Absolutely Not!
Next, the budget cuts all 3-year olds out of the state’s preschool program for low-income children. Ironically, the cuts come on the heels of a recommendation to the Governor from the state Department of Early Learning, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Thrive by Five Washington that “basic education” include preschool for all 3- and 4-year olds.
Over 1,500 young children at-risk of school failure are going to miss having a quality preschool experience just at the time when all the scientific research into brain development and function says they need it the most.
Third, despite the fact the full-day kindergarten was made part of basic education last year, this budget cuts it completely — just as it was being phased in. And because the phase-in started in the poorest schools, the children most at risk of school failure will be hurt.
I could go on and on about what these cuts will do to the children, families, teachers, and future of our state. But this is not only a failure of government; it is also a failure of public will.
We have the power to increase graduation rates, lower the number of high school dropouts, and increase college attendance. We have the power to prevent dependence on public assistance and decrease crime and violence in our communities. We can do it through early learning. The research proves it. But it’s not enough just to demand it. We have to support paying for it.
This budget should be a wake-up call to everyone across the state. No matter how rich or how poor you are now, we will all be poorer when all is said and done. Some will be poorer right away, like the Wage Ladder teachers who will have their wages cut, the communities and businesses where that money was spent, and the children whose learning will be delayed.
But we’ll all be poorer later, when we start shelling out big bucks for expensive educational interventions in elementary through high school that only catch a small number of students. We’ll be yet poorer when we pay to incarcerate people whose lives could have been put on the right path.
Skimp now, pay later – moral bankruptcy has its price.