Strengthen Early Education by Investing in Immigrant Women

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Photo: OneAmerica and Washington State legislators visit a school where dual-language and early learning programs are being implemented.

When you think of early learning, what do you see? Our youngest scholars learning the building blocks for long-term academic (and life) success? An education space that embraces students’ home language and recognizes the skills and knowledge of immigrant professionals?

OneAmerica’s work in early childhood education and care (ECEC) is based on two core principles:

  • Close the opportunity gap before it starts, and
  • Shape a system - with families, allies, and partners – that brings the linguistic and cultural assets of our communities into early learning settings.

A successful early learning system must reflect and account for the growing diversity of Washington State.
OneAmerica is influencing early learning policy and systems through organizing and coalition-building, and legislative and administrative advocacy. We advocate for resources and supports for communities affected by racial and income inequities.

One key concern is how quality early education is measured, so that new standards will not perpetuate barriers for immigrant and refugee communities. Over the last year, we’ve worked with the Department of Early Learning (DEL) to integrate cultural and linguistic standards into our state’s early education measurement and rating system to ensure that the strengths immigrant women bring to the field are recognized and rewarded.

Early learning is also a critical matter of immigrant integration and economic opportunity, because many immigrant and refugee women pursue early education careers in their local community. We believe that early education systems must value the languages and diversity of our children and our communities in order to improve educational opportunities and outcomes.

Several months ago, the Latino Childcare Taskforce approached us about an issue many of their members are facing: undocumented early learning professionals were being blocked from access to state scholarships to support their professional development.  As a matter of racial equity, it is crucial that undocumented immigrants are able to access the same resources available to their peers and colleagues to grow in their careers and move up the wage ladder.

ECEC professionals without a social security number, however, were not able to apply for Early Achievers Bachelor’s Degree Scholarships offered by DEL. Through our advocacy we learned that the early learning system welcomes undocumented providers through a social security waiver as part of early learning licensing, and filling out a FAFSA form as part of the scholarship application  – where a social security number is asked for - was only used to assess financial need, but was otherwise unnecessary for the goals of the program. As a result of our work with the Latino Childcare Taskforce and DEL, the FAFSA was removed as an Early Achievers BA scholarship application requirement in July 2016.

This important change will mean that the many dedicated, passionate undocumented ECEC professionals will have access to this critical professional development resource. Ensuring access and supports such as these is a crucial component to retaining a diverse educator workforce that reflects our communities and shares our many cultures and languages.

A growing body of research indicates early learning is an effective strategy to close the opportunity gap before it can begin for many immigrant and refugee families. This is also true for low income and/or families of color impacted by the opportunity gap; in fact the Washington State Institute for Public Policy shows a return on investment valued at over four times for every dollar invested by the state while also having a positive impact on outcomes for children from grades three to five. Early learning helps children enter kindergarten with skills that will translate into lifelong learning and achievement.

Building on this important reform, we view Washington State’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), as a critical dual-generation approach that can serve to strengthen the educational and economic opportunities of parents and guardians, leading to more resilient families and stronger communities. Investing in early learning and building a system that is culturally and linguistically responsive while retaining diverse teachers will help every child in Washington State achieve their full potential.

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