Early Learning a Priority for Washington State Legislators

Did You Know? NCSL staff can work with legislators and legislative staff to plan and convene a policy-oriented meeting in your state.

NCSL’s Early Care and Education staff traveled to Olympia, Wash. to support an Early Learning Forum during new member orientations in January.

The forum, which was supported through a grant from the Alliance for Early Success, was organized for the 49 members of the Senate, six of whom are newly elected, and the 98 members of the House, with 23 newly elected representatives. More than 40 participants, including advocates and experts, attended.

NCSL worked with members of the legislature and local stakeholders to plan the day’s agenda. The forum was an opportunity to focus attention on early learning policy options, discuss legislative accomplishments and consider potential goals for 2019 and beyond.

Governor Jay Inslee hosted a special breakfast for newly elected legislators at the governor’s residence to kick off the day and to share his administration’s early learning plan. Following breakfast, the meeting moved to the Hands on Children’s Museum where first lady Trudi Inslee opened the forum, and former House member, and longtime early learning and child welfare champion, Ruth Kagi outlined the agenda and kept the day on course.

Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, discussed early brain development, explaining that in the first years of life 1 million new neural connections form each second, and how language acquisition becomes increasingly more difficult as we age. Once the participants were all grounded in the science, attention shifted to the economic case for investing in early childhood.

Delivering the business rationale for high-quality early learning programs, Robert Dugger described The Heckman Curve, which shows the economic benefits of “investing early and building skill upon skill to provide greater success to more children and greater productivity and reduce social spending for society.” Many economists, including Nobel Laureate James Heckman and Dugger himself, argue that financing in the early years is a sound investment and a topic to be discussed

Gail Joseph who oversees Washington’s Early Achievers quality rating and improvement system for licensed child care and prekindergarten programs, explained that having high standards costs money but settling for less does not allow our youngest children to thrive and gain the skills to blossom into successful and productive adults.

In Washington, the Early Start Act became law in 2015 with some specific goals of improving access to high-quality early learning programs so all children arrive to school ready to learn. She continued by underscoring the importance of teacher-child interactions and the connection to improved child outcomes.

The Early Learning Forum concluded with a panel discussion featuring legislators and alumni from NCSL’s Early Learning Fellows program, the director of government affairs and community engagement at the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families, and the deputy director from the Children’s Alliance, a local children’s advocacy organization. Panelists discussed the history of early learning in Washington and challenges and opportunities for the upcoming session.

With bills already being introduced, it might be worth keeping an eye on Washington state this year. 

Contact Alison Mayto discuss how NCSL could support a similar meeting in your state.

Alison May is a research analyst with NCSL’s Children and Families Program. She covers early care and education issues.

This blog originally appeared on the NCSL’s website

(February 25, 2019)