2021 State of Preschool Report Shows Progress in Washington State Amid Pandemic

May 4, 2022
group of young children outside

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recently published the 2021 State of Preschool Yearbook, which shows that Washington was one of only a few states to increase preschool enrollment and spending during the 2020-2021 school year.

The annual report, which focused on the first school year fully impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, shows that state funding for preschool programs declined nationally for the first time since 2014, and enrollment decreased in almost every state – with Washington being an exception.

The Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) has a goal to ensure that all of Washington’s children are ready for kindergarten. The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is a large part of DCYF’s strategy to accomplishing this goal of kindergarten readiness, as it prepares 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families for success in school and life.

“The findings from this report exemplify our state’s commitment to providing access to high-quality early learning opportunities for all children,” said Nicole Rose, DCYF Assistant Secretary of Early Learning. “We are proud of the progress we’re making in ECEAP enrollment in Washington, and we recognize that we need to continue expanding access to serve all eligible children.”

Expansion of ECEAP services in communities across the state is occurring yearly until 2026-2027. By that time, the Washington State Legislature has determined that any eligible child shall be entitled to be enrolled in the program.

Additionally, for the first time, ECEAP met 9 of 10 quality standard benchmarks as a result of policy change by requiring both lead and assistant teachers to have annual individualized professional development plans. Nationally, only 16 programs in total met 9 or 10 benchmarks.

Other Washington State highlights from the 2021 State of Preschool Yearbook report include:

  • 15,505 enrollment in state-funded preschool – an increase of 1,505
  • $150 million in state spending for preschool programs – a $16 million increase
  • Ranked fifth in the nation for state spending per child
  • Ranked 15th in the nation for access for 3-year-olds
  • Ranked 36th in the nation for access for 4-year-olds

“Children and parents in Washington need high-quality, full-day preschool programs that support early learning and parental employment,” said NIEER Founder and Senior Co-Director W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D. “The pandemic has made it even clearer that such preschool programs are essential for young children and their families. Washington must step up and set a firm date to at least serve all income-eligible children.”

“While we are not complacent in meeting the needs of early learners, the 2021 State of Preschool Yearbook provides indicators that DCYF and the ECEAP community are making progress to serve more children with high-quality early learning, even during a global pandemic,” said Rose.

For more information and detailed state-by-state profiles on quality, access, and funding, please visit nieer.org.