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Seattle Considers Proposed Universal Preschool Program

Cliff Owen
Associated Press

Seattle schoolchildren returned to school Wednesday, but some of the city’s kindergarteners have already fallen behind.

At least that’s how Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess sees things, which is why he’s proposing a universal preschool program for the city's 3- and 4-year-olds.

"We know what works in helping kids to be prepared, to learn, and to thrive starting in kindergarten, and it means investing early," Burgess said.

Burgess saidnationwide research and a trip to the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Science convinced him about the importance of early education. A universal preschool program would impact not only high school graduation rates, he said, but also lead to higher-paying jobs and a lower crime rate.

The proposed pre-K program would be free to an estimated 2,000 Seattle kids who are among the poorest in the city. Other families would pay on a sliding scale.

The Seattle City Council will take up the proposal later this month. If it moves forward, a task force would tackle some of the biggest questions like cost and funding.

If approved, the citywide pre-K program will not be housed at Seattle schools.

"We don’t have the capacity to do this even if we wanted to do it," said schools director Michael DeBell.

Seattle schools currently offers some pre-K programs funded through a variety of measures, including federal dollars as well as foundation money.

Preschool programs are already in place in San Francisco, Boston, Oklahoma, and 31 districts in New Jersey.