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If Seattle Creates Preschool Program, Multilingual Providers Would Have Leg Up

Kyle Stokes

If Seattle voters approve a property tax hike to expand preschool access, the program would start small, paying for a handful of providers to teach a little more than a dozen classrooms of students in its first year.

How will the city choose those few providers? Those teaching preschool kids in multiple languages have a better chance of getting picked.

That's one of the details of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray's four-year, $58 million preschool proposal members of the Seattle City Council discussed during a committee meeting Friday.

At a rate of $10,000 per student per year, the plan would pay for 14 preschool classrooms in Seattle Public Schools or other "community-based preschool providers." To qualify for the program, providers would have to be properly licensed and adequately rated by the state.

But dual language programs, in which instructors teach students in two languages at once, "will receive funding priority" under Murray's plan.

Nearly two out of three children already enrolled in public preschool programs in Seattle speak a language other than English at home,  according to one city report. The same report also explains how, for some Seattle non-English speakers, language barriers can be enough to prevent them from enrolling their children in preschool.

Though dual language programs aren't shoe-ins to receive funding, the mayor's staff says these programs fit a critical need for the city's diverse students.

"Research is really coming out and telling us that when children have a good understanding of their home language ... that they do best at their ability to learn other languages, like acquiring English," said Rachel Schulkin, the community outreach manager for the mayor's Office for Education. "We want to make sure ... that we're supporting both of those language development processes."

The mayor's proposal states bilingual preschool teachers and instructional assistants "will be fairly compensated for their expertise."

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.