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As taxes rise, we can’t forget our youngest residents

Teacher Alex Grennan and Jillian Landy-Rogan, 2, at The Inc Coworking + Childcare at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Seattle. Credit: Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut

America does less to prepare its youngest children to enter kindergarten than nearly all other countries in the world with advanced economies.

Two nationally respected scholars — Ajay Chaudry and Chris Weiland — are presenting findings Wednesday at Seattle City Hall from their research that shows just how far behind we are as a nation in preparing our children for a productive and satisfying life.

While we have taken steps here in Seattle and King County to rectify this gloomy outlook, much remains to be done.

Consider these facts from Chaudry’s and Weiland’s research. Nearly half of children in our country enter kindergarten without the skills they need to thrive. For black children, it’s more than half, and for Hispanic kids it’s 60 percent. The educational achievement gaps we see in primary-school children are present before they enter kindergarten and they persist.

In Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality, Chaudry and Weiland, along with Taryn Morrissey and Hirokazu Yoshikawa, lay out the predicament we face as a nation and suggests how we might respond. Their conclusion: Invest early in the lives of children with high quality programs designed to enhance brain development, prepare kids for kindergarten and support parents.

Why does this matter? Because our children deserve a strong and fair start in life. And with that strong and fair start, our children will be prepared to lead, to fuel innovation, to sustain the economy and to advance our civilization.

The United States falls far below our leading competitor countries with advanced economies in spending on early childhood care and education. The United States ranks near the bottom of developed countries in the share of the gross domestic product spent on early childhood programs.

The authors of Cradle to Kindergarten recommend several action steps designed to rectify our national disgrace of not preparing our children — paid parental leave, reliable guarantee of child-care assistance for working families, universal high-quality education beginning at age 3, and an overhaul of the federal Head Start program to begin at birth and provide continuous development services to our most vulnerable children. These steps are crucial to lowering the number of children who walk through the kindergarten door already behind.

Next year, Seattle’s mayor and city council will consider renewal of the Families and Education Levy, designed to provide extra academic support for children falling behind, and the crucial Seattle Preschool Program for our 3- and 4-year-old children. Both of these special tax levies should be renewed with a keen focus on quality and academic outcomes.

The challenge will be the rising property tax burden, especially this next spring when the new property tax statements arrive in our mailboxes with the state’s McCleary-case education boost included. Those statements will create a shock among Seattle property owners. But, no matter how much more we spend on our K-12 education system, it will be for naught if nearly half of our children arrive at the kindergarten door already behind their peers.

The compelling case for early investments — from cradle to kindergarten — is being presented at City Hall. Let’s hope we can rally ourselves to do what’s right for our kids so they get the strong and fair start they — and we — deserve. The future of Seattle will be stronger and more secure if we do.

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