Legislation passed overwhelmingly today by the House would give more children access to early education programs that have been shown to help students perform better academically and succeed in school and throughout life.

“We know that children who struggle with learning deficits early are far more likely to lag behind their peers throughout school and into adulthood,” said Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), the bill’s sponsor. “These children will struggle to succeed academically, they will struggle to succeed professionally, and they will struggle to succeed economically. We have the ability and the opportunity to turn their struggles into success.”

Senate Bill 5437 would make more students eligible for the state’s early childhood education and assistance program (ECEAP) by increasing the income-level of households from which students can qualify, from 110 percent of the federal poverty limit to as much as 200 percent of the poverty level, within certain limitations. The legislation also directs the state Department of Children, Youth, and Families to consult with tribes and develop recommendations for closing the ECEAP opportunity gap for tribal children.

“We know ECEAP works, and works very effectively, to help children of color and from low-income homes access the critical early learning skills they need to keep up with their more advantaged peers,” said Wilson, who is the vice chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. “We also know that a child whose family is a dollar above the 110 percent federal poverty limit is just as vulnerable as a child whose family is a dollar below it. This much-needed change will bring lasting change to the lives of children across our state.”

Since the bill was amended by the House before passing on an 89-8 vote, it must now go back to the Senate for reconsideration.