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Gov. Gregoire's Testimony for the Early Learning Legislation

For Immediate Release: January 18, 2006

Governor Chris Gregoire's Testimony for the Early Learning Legislation, AS DELIVERED to the Senate Committee on Early Learning, K-12 and Higher Education

Madam Chair and Members of the Committee:

I am very pleased to appear before you today on this very important issue — consolidation of all early learning programs into a single agency.

Last week I asked the citizens of this state, how would you grade a system where less than 50% of the kids are prepared to learn when they reach kindergarten?

Or a system where half a dozen early learning programs in state government are spread across numerous agencies and have no clear vision?

Last session you authorized Washington Learns, a comprehensive study of education from preschool through higher education. This legislation proposes to implement one of the first recommendations of that study. It takes an important step toward creating an early learning system that is efficient and supports parents and communities in making sure that every child is ready to succeed in school and life.

The research is in, and there is no doubt. 90% of human brain development happens in the first five years of life. Brain development research shows that the experiences of our youngest children establish the capacity for life-long learning.

Researchers now believe that a large share of the gap in academic achievement could be closed if all children had better early learning experiences. And, the later in life we attempt to repair deficits, the costlier it becomes.

We know children with early learning success are more likely to finish school, more likely to go to college, less likely to be unemployed and less likely to commit crimes.

Our children are born to learn and the first and best teacher in a child’s life is the parent. But when parents and families want help in providing learning opportunities for their young children, we need to help.

In recent years we have fallen behind the rest of the country in attention to early learning, but we do have successes in Head Start and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). Long-term studies consistently show that these programs are a sound investment for future success in the K-12 system and beyond. We need to extend what we’ve learned from these programs so that all young children and their families have the opportunity to succeed.

We need less bureaucracy. We need to stop falling behind the rest of the country. We need to make sure our children are ready to learn when they hit kindergarten.

Business leaders understand the value of early learning. They know it is an investment in the future.

Our economy and early education are interdependent. One of the best investments we can make. Up to a 16% return on our investment.

Yesterday I stood with Bob Watt – who is here today – Bruce and Jolene McCaw, Bill Gates Sr., and other leaders from business and foundations, to announce the creation of a new public-private partnership that will invest millions in seed dollars to improve early learning in our state.

Public-private partnerships can produce important progress—but currently there is no single agency to act as the public partner.

Many of our state’s most prominent private companies and foundations are eager to make a major investment in early learning in partnership with the state. But they need a public partner—a single agency with whom they can coordinate investments and plan for the future.

Our early learning programs are scattered and parents lack good information about how to be the most effective first teachers of their children. Organizations that want to partner with the state to improve early learning face a bureaucratic maze.

A strong early learning agency will be the focal point for better coordination and communication between the worlds of early learning and K-12, and help ensure all children have a foundation for success when they start kindergarten.

Consolidating our efforts into one Early Learning Department won’t solve all the problems of early learning, but it will make solutions possible.

Parents, children, private sector partners, and our new, knowledge-based economy can’t wait. We know much more today about the vital nature of early learning. We also have much stronger private sector interest in helping to promote early learning than ever before. By establishing a Department of Early Learning now, we can leverage these assets to make better use of the tax dollars we are already spending on childcare and early learning programs.

Thank you.