Advancing Early Learning in Washington State

Last year, Washington Legislature passed a historic $158 million investment in early learning, which included the bipartisan Early Start Act.

This was the culmination of years of work by advocates and policymakers. Read more about the bill here.  However, in 2016, the second year of Washington’s two-year budget, revenues were lower than anticipated and this, paired with a series of unanticipated expenses, created a tough fiscal environment.

Advocates focused on a few key policy priorities in 2016.  An Early Achievers Review process is currently underway to refine Washington’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) with an eye toward identifying barriers to provider participation.  The review is focusing on barriers with implications for racial equity, and identifying which standards are most predictive of improved child outcomes. Standards across Washington’s early learning system are being aligned with the aim of eliminating duplication and contradiction between licensing, QRIS and state pre-K standards.

Despite the tough fiscal climate, early learning advocates won $12.7 million for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to increase funds for family home child care providers, specifically for subsidy reimbursement base rates, tiered reimbursement, quality improvement awards, training and coaching, and expanded contracted-slot pilots and other quality improvement mechanisms. These new resources are in addition to investments in these areas from the Early Start Act of 2015.

Advocates also prevented a reduction of state funds for Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). Federal appropriations increased Washington state’s FY2016 CCDBG allotment by $9.8 million to help cover higher federal child care standards.  Unfortunately, the state legislature passed a budget that used these funds to supplant existing state funds that had been allocated for early learning. Advocates fought this reduction and Governor Jay Inslee eliminated it in a line item veto. If the reduction had been signed into law, it would have meant a net reduction in early learning spending both this year and in the maintenance level for the Early Start Act going forward.

Early learning advocacy during the 2016 legislative session also laid the foundation for our work in the 2017 biennial budget year, when we will strive to expand our state pre-K program, extend resources provided to family child care providers to those in child care centers, and protect access to high quality care in a variety of settings.

-Jon Gould
Deputy Director
Children's Alliance
(July 27, 2016)