What's Trending for Early Childhood in Washington State

If early learning policy in Washington state were measured in Twitter-speak, I’d say that quality, dosage, and blended funding are trending!

Our 60-day legislative session concluded in mid-March with some hard earned victories for early learning – most significantly, a $24 million new investment in an 8% rate increase for child care centers and homes and funding to pilot a tiered reimbursement pilot that would incentivize high-quality care.

We also made headway, but didn’t succeed in passing the Early Start Act (House Bill 2377), a major new proposal to advance quality throughout our system. Through a variety of incentives and accountability measures, Early Start is aimed at producing positive educational outcomes for kids. The bill sponsors were Representative Ross Hunter (chair of the House Appropriations Committee, a Democrat) and Senator Steve Litzow (Chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, a Republican).

Here’s a summary of some of the main provisions of the Washington State’s Early Start bill.

  • A 12-month child care enrollment period, regardless of changes in family circumstances;
    • Requires child care providers serving non-school age children and receiving state subsidy to rate at a level 2 in Early Achievers (WA’s Quality Rating Improvement System) by July 2017 and a level 3 by July 2019. Extensions may be granted due to unexpected life circumstances
  • Professional development pathways for providers that are culturally and linguistically reflective of their needs and demographics;
  • Creation of a substitute pool and needs-based grants for providers at level 2 in Early Achievers to assist with purchasing curriculum, instructional materials, supplies and equipment to improve quality;
  • Contracting at least 20% of child care subsidy slots by January 2016;
  • Requires Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program providers (ECEAP – WA’s PreK program) to rate at a level 3 in Early Achievers by July 2015 and a level 4 by July 2019. Also requires ECEAP programs to institute a Working Connections Child Care program and maintain an optional full workday program by July 2017.

This document provides a nice summary of the Act.

Advocates were active improving the bill to focus funding and resources to reach the desired outcomes – especially for children in low-income families and children of color.

All together, the cost of implementing the Early Start Act was $28 million in FY15 and $96 million in FY 15-17 and $127 million in FY 17-19. While there appeared to be bipartisan support for the policy, the legislature couldn’t reach agreement on funding.

Meanwhile, our Department of Early Learning is moving forward on some pieces of the Early Start Act administratively. Beginning with the next round of ECEAP expansion (1,350 additional slots in FY 15), the Department is increasing the instructional hours of ECEAP by prioritizing proposals that would offer a six-hour full day or a 10-hour extended full day—to get more preschoolers a higher dosage of quality care. Current contractors have the option of converting existing slots to a full day or extended full day. The full day options will be achieved by braiding PreK and child care funding streams at the state level.

Click here to see resources about this expansion and the braided funding options.

We are well positioned to move forward with Early Start in the 2015 legislative session. Next year the legislature will adopt a biennial budget with more opportunity than this year’s supplemental budget allowed. However, we’ll also be up against some significant challenges: our Race to the Top funding is expiring in 2015 and we’ll be asking for additional investments in preschool (to work toward entitlement by 2018-2019) and home visiting.


-Jon Gould, Deputy Director
Children's Alliance