Inslee in Yakima calls for investment in early learning

Greater investments in early childhood programs now would have across-the-board benefits in the future, Gov. Jay Inslee told local officials at a Yakima early education roundtable Wednesday.

The Democratic governor - and a former Yakima Valley legislator - urged attendees to lobby lawmakers, who are pondering how to expand funding in education in light of Inslee's proposals and a key decision by the state Supreme Court.

That ruling, known as McCleary decision, mandates that the Legislature fully fund basic education. The court also ordered lawmakers to make significant progress toward that goal this session.

Yakima was the first stop on Inslee's daylong trip to Central Washington. He toured a licensed family home child care provider, spoke at the OIC of Washington's Excel High School and attended a brown-bag luncheon at the nonprofit social service agency's facility.

He concluded the trip at Central Washington University to attend another roundtable exclusively with CWU students.

At the Yakima roundtable, he reiterated his intentions to bump up the budget for early childhood education. Late last year, Inslee proposed $156 million for early learning programs, an amount he has repeatedly called the largest investment ever for education at these grade levels.

He told local officials including Yakima police Chief Dominic Rizzi, Sheriff Brian Winter and Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic that the transition from preschool and early childhood programs to kindergarten is as momentous as other grade school milestones.

The "first rung" in a child's schooling can have long-lasting effects down the road, Inslee said.

"When I ask (lower-grade) teachers where the first investments ought to be, they usually say in early childhood - not even in their classrooms," he said. "That's pretty amazing."

Winter agreed with the governor. By targeting children early with necessary resources, society lessens the risk that youngsters will succumb to gang violence, drop out of school and so forth, he said.

"The earlier and the more often we as a community can engage with those kids," the less likely he, Rizzi or Brusic is to interact with them in the future as a result of criminal activity, Winter said.

After the meeting, Inslee spoke with reporters about how close the state is to meeting the obligations imposed by the McCleary decision. Although he didn't go into specifics, he said both chambers have progressed.

"I'm hearing good things from leadership from both parties," he said. "The good news is I think both parties are coming to understand why this is a great investment."

However, Inslee restated that lawmakers will have to find new revenue sources to make his or anyone else's proposals a reality. He's been saying that since his budget proposal first made waves last year.

"There is no free lunch, no pot of gold in Olympia," he said.

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