Two Mid-Columbia school districts will start offering a state-funded low-income preschool program beginning this fall while two others, including the Pasco School District, will see their programs expand.
A $1.1 million grant from the state Department of Early Learning will pay for 155 more half-day slots in the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, or ECEAP. The slots will go to programs managed by Educational Service District 123’s early learning department.
The new openings more than double the size of the ESD’s offerings and, while there is still great demand for preschool classrooms, officials said they are excited to serve more children. The two new districts being added are Othello and Prescott.
“Every number helps. It’s steady progress,” said Samantha Bowen, early learning director for the ESD.
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The boost to ECEAP is part of the state’s Early Start Act, recently signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.
The Legislature set a goal to make preschool available to all 4-year-olds by 2021 in an effort to ensure the state’s most vulnerable are given the best opportunity to succeed in their education.
ECEAP is available to any child not yet old enough for kindergarten whose family is at or below the 110 percent of federal poverty level, or $25,905 for a family of four.
Children also are eligible if they require special education services, have developmental or environmental factors that risk their educational success or are in the child welfare system.
ECEAP programs have been in the Richland and Kennewick school districts for a while and the state program has been expanding in the region in recent years, including the establishment of nearly 40 slots in the Kiona-Benton City School District.
ESD 123 starting running its own program in the Pasco, Columbia-Burbank, North Franklin and Finley school districts last year with 110 total slots.
Eighty of the ESD’s new slots will go to Pasco, more than tripling what is currently offered in the district. They will be split between Longfellow and Whittier elementary schools.
The district’s current 40 ECEAP students, who attend on a full-day basis at Captain Gray STEM Elementary School, will move to Emerson and Rowena Chess elementary schools next year.
“The sooner we get kids in school and get them learning, the better chance we have of bridging that achievement gap,” district spokeswoman Leslee Caul told the Herald.
The Othello School District will receive 40 positions and Prescott will get 20 to begin offering ECEAP in their communities.
Finley will add 15 slots, roughly doubling its current capacity. District officials there said there was a lot of excitement around the program and they are eager to work with ESD on the details.
•Herald reporter Geoff Folsom contributed to this story.