With fewer Spokane children ready for the rigors of kindergarten, Spokane Public Schools hopes the Legislature will give a boost to early childhood learning.
“Spokane County is lagging,” board member Mike Wiser said Wednesday night before the board gave unanimous approval to its wish list for approval in 2020.
The district has lowered class sizes, Wiser said, “but that has not kept up with the significant gaps” in preparedness for entering kindergartners.
According to a statewide study conducted last year, fewer than one-quarter of Spokane youngsters were “kindergarten ready,” meaning that more than 75% did not meet state standards for cognition, language, literacy, math, language and social-emotional maturity.
The problem is greater in Spokane than in most major districts in the state, and it’s getting worse – the result of deepening poverty, trauma, homelessness and the growing scarcity of affordable preschools and daycare.
Specifically, the district is hoping for “enhanced statewide pre-K supports,” including eligibility for Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECAP), workforce development and early learning facilities.
The state-funded ECAP program offers comprehensive preschool for high-needs children whose families earn less than 110% of the federal poverty level, or about $28,325 for a family of four.
The goal is to increase the number of students who have equitable access to a high quality preschool experience prior to starting kindergarten.
The pre-K request is part of a much longer wish list, and resembles the aims of the state superintendent’s office and the Washington State School Directors’ Association.
“The Legislature has made great progress in funding for K-12 education, but our state is still struggling to provide the programmatic, social, and emotional supports that our students need and deserve,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction.
In the wake of budget cuts, most are pursuing a revamping of the decadesold Prototypical School Funding Model for staffing ratios.
Spokane is hoping that the next budget will “adequately meet student support needs in local districts, which have grown exponentially while funding ratios for staff positions have remained at 1980s implementation levels,” the district said in a statement.
A major hole in Spokane’s budget is special education, which was underfunded by about $8 million last year, the district said.
Spokane Public Schools also face a higher-than-average incidence of vaping, prompting a request for the Legislature to “work with school boards across the state to support a public education campaign that makes Washington a leader in warning young people about the serious dangers of vaping and using tobacco in any form,” the district said.
Spokane also is hurt by the new one-size-fits-all statewide average salary allocation model, which penalizes districts with more experienced staffs. About 40% of Spokane teachers have more than 16 years of experience.
The latest challenge to district budgets is the takeover on Jan. 1 by the School Employee Benefits Board of administration of health insurance and other benefits to all public school employees.
Spokane Superintendent Shelley Redinger and the board have warned about the impending impact of SEBB since last winter.
The district’s wish list includes a request for the Legislature to “provide a solution to allow employees to continue the long-standing practice of “job sharing” positions, which has become cost-prohibitive under existing state School Employees Benefits Board (SEBB) regulations.”
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