- Associated Press - Monday, July 6, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - Surrounded by children, Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday signed bills to help kids on both ends of the education spectrum: a comprehensive new early learning bill and a measure that will cut college and university tuition.

The Early Start Act makes the state’s quality-rating system mandatory for licensed childcare facilities that receive state dollars. It also provides money for training of teachers, coaching and technical assistance to help these childcare centers reach a higher rating. Participation by centers and daycare homes that do not receive state dollars continues to be voluntary.

The College Affordability Program would cut tuition at all of Washington’s public college and universities over the next two years. Four-year schools would see their tuition cut by 15 to 20 percent, and two-year schools would see tuition drop by 5 percent.

The state budget makes up for the cut in dollars going to the state’s colleges and universities by adding money to the state higher education budget from other sources.

Tuition is set to go down 15 percent at the University of Washington and Washington State University and 20 percent at Western, Central, Eastern and the Evergreen State College.

Beginning in fall 2017, state college and university tuition may start to go back up, but only as fast as the annual average percentage growth in the median hourly wage for Washington for the previous 14 years.

National experts on college tuition have called Washington’s tuition cut a rare move that could influence other states.

The new early learning law also changes the way the state distributes its childcare subsidies, allowing kids to stay in their subsidized program for 12 months even if their family’s financial situation changes.

The governor commended both houses of the Legislature for the bipartisan way they worked to pass this bill sponsored by Rep. Ruth Kagi, whose granddaughter came to the bill-signing event. Inslee called it one of the most comprehensive and important bills to come to his desk this year.

The state budget also boosts spending on early learning by allocating $94.5 million to the state preschool budget to train teachers and educate more children. The Early Start Act would help more than 48,000 children get a high-quality start on their educations, Inslee said.

The state budget makes a strong commitment to education at every level this year, from preschool to K-12 to higher education, the governor said. “Every single rung on the education ladder has to be financed and fulfilled. But it starts on this very first rung,” Inslee said before signing the preschool bill.

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