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Our grantee in the state of Washington, Children’s Alliance, is a multi-issue advocacy organization working to place racial justice at the heart of Washington’s laws and budget priorities. Children’s Alliance leads the Early Learning Action Alliance (ELAA), a coalition of 50 organizations representing a diverse array of Washington nonprofits, professional associations, businesses, and industries. ELAA is united by the belief that all children in Washington state deserve to have the opportunities and support they need in their first five years of life to be prepared for school and a bright future.

2023 State Early Childhood Policy Environment and Progress

State early childhood policy progress is dependent both on the state’s policy environment and the numerous efforts — by those listed on this page and many others — who worked both independently and collaboratively to achieve wins for young children.

Early Childhood Landscape:

Research shows that family economic security is foundational to children’s overall wellbeing. Research also shows that widespread disparities in opportunity (especially by race) drive wide disparities in outcomes. States with policies that offer strong support to young children and their families are more likely to see 1) declining numbers of children in low-income households and 2) low racial disparity among those children. 

Young Children in Low-Income Households: Declining

Approximately 30% (238,000) of the state’s children 0-8 live in households below 200% FPL (2021). This number represents a decrease from 37% (297,000) in 2016.1

Racial Disparity Among Young Children Living in Low-Income Households: High

Black, Hispanic/Latino, and/or Native children aged 0-8 are significantly more likely to be living in households below 200% FPL than are Asian and non-Hispanic White children.2

Advocacy Landscape:

State General Fund Appropriations: Growing 

Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed the state’s biennial budget for fiscal 2024 and fiscal 2025 on May 16, with limited line-item vetoes. The enacted budget provides for operating spending of $133.6 billion from all funds over the biennium – or $163.5 billion when including transportation and capital spending. Near general fund spending in he enacted operating budget for the biennium is $69.8 billion. These figures reflect a 4.6 percent decrease in total budgeted operating spending and a 0.9 percent increase in near-general fund spending over the previous biennium’s revised (supplemental) budget. The enacted budget was based on a March 2023 revenue forecast of $65.7 billion; the June forecast was revised upward to $66.0 billion for the biennium. The June estimate includes $32.5 billion for fiscal 2024 (a 1.6 percent annual decrease) and $33.5 billion for fiscal 2025 (a 3.2 percent annual increase). With a beginning fund balance of $4.5 billion, and after a $630 million transfer to the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA), $57 million in additional revenue from changes, and other transfers, total resources for the biennium amount to $71.3 billion (as of the June forecast). After enacted expenditures and assumed reversions, the state is projecting an ending balance of $2.0 billion, as well as a BSA (rainy day fund) balance of $1.3 billion and a balance in the Washington Rescue Plan Transition Account of $800 million, for total reserves of $4.1 billion.3

Key Revenue Sources:

    • State Sales Tax (6.5%)
    • No State Personal Income Tax

Political Alignment: Aligned Democrat

Washington has a capital gains tax dedicated to early childhood — a 7-percent tax on profits of more than $250,000 that result from the sale of stocks and bonds, excluding revenue from real estate and retirement accounts, among other exceptions. The tax raises hundreds of millions of dollars for crucial early childhood programs through 2021’s Fair Start for Kids Act (FSK).

Permanent State Funding Stream Dedicated to Early Childhood: Yes

During the 2023 session, the state’s Senate and House were both Democrat controlled. The state’s Governor was also a Democrat.4

Types of Ballot Measures Available:5  Five

    • Legislature-initiated state statute – Appears on a state’s ballot as a ballot measure because the state legislature in the state voted to put it before the voters.
    • Voter-initiated state statute – Earns a spot on the ballot when sponsors collect signatures according to the laws governing the initiative process in Washington.
    • Legislature-initiated constitutional amendment – A constitutional amendment that appears on a state’s ballot as a ballot measure because the state legislature in that state voted to put it before the voters.
    • Veto referendum – When citizens of Washington disagree with a statute or legislative bill enacted by the state legislature, they can collect signatures to force the issue to a vote. If enough signatures are collected, the bill is placed on the statewide ballot.
    • Advisory question – A non-binding referendum question put on the ballot by the state legislature to gauge voters’ wants.

Early Childhood Policy Advocacy Organizations Include:

Early Learning Action Alliance Washington

Early Childhood Policy Advocacy Multi-State Initiatives Include:6

2023 Policy Progress:

Washington state lawmakers took major steps forward, with significant investments and equitable policies in early learning, child health, and family economic security. Among the highlights: expanding child care subsidy to immigrant families and providing unemployment insurance to working parents who must leave a job when they need, but can’t find, child care due to a last-minute change in their work shift.

Highlights from the state’s early childhood policy advocacy community include:7

Major investments in early childhood education continue, with the passage of a two-year budget that invests nearly $333 million in affordable child care. Lawmakers set subsidies to the 85th percentile of the 2021 market rate survey, which means more child care providers can continue to operate and recruit and retain dedicated staff. They also invested $80 million to expand and strengthen high-quality pre-K for income-qualified 3- and 4-year-olds.

SB 5225: Expanding eligibility for affordable child care to immigrant families, child care employees, and those participating in therapeutic courts. This bill widens access to not only undocumented students in higher education, but more broadly to mixed-status immigrant families. Advocates also successfully fended off several amendments, including one that would prioritize children with citizenship over children without citizenship.

HB 1106: Would provide unemployment insurance to employees who voluntarily leave work due to lack of child care. This bill expands the definition of a “good cause quit” or “voluntary quit,” which is when an employee quits due to a disability, death, or illness of a family member, or due to other needs that were not addressed by their employer. When an individual must leave work due to a last-minute change in their work shift, with a minimum of six hours difference from their originally scheduled and regular shift, and they are unable to secure care for their family due to the change in schedule, individuals are able to pursue a “good cause quit” and receive unemployment insurance. This bill was somewhat controversial because of concerns that it would increase employers’ payroll taxes; it passed the legislature with a slim majority.

SB 5316 – Requires the state’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families to pay the fees of early childhood professionals and foster care applicants who apply for background checks, removing a barrier to employment for child care workers. The bill also allows the background check to be valid for five years rather than three.

HB 1238: Dramatically expands access to free school meals in districts across the state. The bill grants any student enrolled in a school in which 30 percent or more of their classmates qualify for free and reduced-price meals the right to receive a healthy school breakfast or lunch upon request. The bill obliges the state to reimburse local districts for the cost of these meals, rather than requiring the school district to bear the cost not borne by the federal government, which reimburses the cost of meals when 40 percent or more students qualify.

HB 1168: Providing prevention services, diagnoses, treatment, and support for prenatal substance exposure. Increases access to services for children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) and other prenatal substance disorders, by requiring the state to contract with a group to provide services to children and families within the child welfare system. This contract would allow more families to stay together while minimizing foster care placements, leading to the least restrictive and disruptive experience for children and families. 

HB 1199: Allowing child care centers in common-interest communities (homeowners’ associations). This bill will primarily ensure that child care providers can legally operate in their units. If homeowners’ associations attempt to limit use of a unit, the HOA will be fined $1,000.

Ongoing Grantee Areas of Advocacy:

The Alliance’s lead grantee in Washington, Children’s Alliance, is working to advance early childhood policies in several areas that align with the Alliance’s birth-through-eight policy framework

Early Care and Education

Child Care

Child Care Workforce

Preschool and Pre-K

Child and
Maternal Health

Maternal Health

Infant & Child Health


Home Visiting

Family Economic Security

Early Childhood Infrastructure


Click here for more information on advocates’ policy agenda.



1 Kids Count Data Center, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Children Ages 0 to 8 Below 200 Percent Poverty, November, 2022 

2 National Center for Children in Poverty, Children Ages 0 to 8 Below 200 Percent Poverty, March 2023, NCCP analysis of ACS 1-Year Estimates – Public Use Microdata Sample 2021

3 National Association of State Budget Officers, Summaries of Fiscal Year 2024 Enacted Budgets, October 11, 2023.

4 National Conference of State Legislatures, 2023 State & Legislative Partisan Composition, February 28, 2023.

5 Ballotpedia, Ballot Measures by State, Kids Count Data Center, retrieved May, 2023.

6 Alliance for Early Success, Multi-State Initiatives for Early Childhood Policy Advocacy, April, 2022.

7 Alliance for Early Success, State-Wide Advocacy Highlights Survey, April-August, 2023.  

More State Policy Data:


More State Demographic Data: