On Wednesday night, Everett City Council heard from members of the Bezos Academy management team about their desire to run a free, full-time preschool for up to 60 children ages three to five.
The participating children came from families affected by homelessness, from the foster care system or from the most economically disadvantaged households in Everett, Washington.
The Bezos Academy was founded a few years ago as part of a personal philanthropy project by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos with a $2 billion grant.
The Bezos Academy says its program is looking for areas that have childcare deserts and is working to increase and supplement preschool capacity.
Everett, Washington is one of those so-called childcare deserts, where less than fifty percent of preschool needs are being met. 53% of children entering preschool in Everett lack basic skills, and 12.8% of Everett’s population lives below the poverty line.
After receiving a call from the Bezos Academy last year, officials in Everett spoke to employees and searched for a location that would meet the needs of a Bezos Academy. Here’s a brief explanation of how the process works, as detailed on the Bezos Academy website:
1. We identify candidate communities based on responses to three questions: Does the community have a high concentration of low-income families? How many 3 to 5 year old children live in the community? What is the gap between the number of preschool children and full-time, year-round licensed preschool places? We look for communities that have a large, growing access gap.
2. We then speak to trusted organizations in the community that recognize the need for early childhood learning services. When we find a host who shares our vision and passion, we ask for their help to better understand the local community, including meeting with other organizations and public bodies that are on the front lines of helping children and families in the area.
3. Once a Bezos Academy is determined to be a good fit for a community’s preschool needs, we discuss space options. We have high standards that all of our schools are required to follow, including meeting or exceeding all state and local eligibility requirements for early childhood education. As long as a building meets the bar, Bezos Academy will make the necessary investments to transform the space into a warm, welcoming preschool environment, and we outfit it with everything needed to open a new Montessori-inspired preschool.
We also cover all operating expenses for our preschool programs at no cost to the families we serve or our community host. We hire, train, develop and pay talented educators and provide the children with everything they need during their day with us, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
Each host makes the premises available to us without additional rent for a period of at least 10 years. Ten years may seem like a long time, but we are committed to this work for the long term and want the families and communities we serve to have as much predictability as possible.
Everett City officials identified Everett Station as a location that would be available and would meet the needs of the Bezos Academy while utilizing a space that had been vacant in recent years.
The city is offering the north side of the building that formerly housed the Veteran’s Services. The academy would have its own entrance, be completely separate from Everett Station, including restrooms for staff and students, and an enclosed outdoor play area.
The cost to the City of Everett would be $60,000 per year, which would come from the General Fund and be paid to Everett Transit as rent. (Everett Transit owns the station and operates on a separate budget from the city.)
For this investment, the Bezos Academy covers all costs, including remodeling, operations, staff, food, etc., for up to 60 children without their families having to pay anything.
The lease proposal is expected to be presented to Everett City Council next week, and if approved, the Bezos Academy could open this fall. Learn more about the Bezos Academy here.