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Washington State Allies Win a Major ECE Package — Plus $66 Million for Workforce Compensation

Working with a broad-based coalition, allies in Washington state seized the opportunity during the 2021 legislative session to think and act boldly and leverage federal relief dollars to improve early care and education policies and funding. The state passed legislation that strengthens programs and empowers educators by investing in sustainable improvements. The critical wins include $66 million in the state budget for compensation and health coverage for childcare workers. The legislative victories were possible due to the digital advocacy strategies that advocates, providers, families, and legislative champions for early childhood employed during the pandemic.  

Passage of Fair Start for Kids Act  

The Fair Start for Kids Act (SB 5237) enhances families’ access and affordability for high-quality early learning programs, including child care and Washington’s pre-k program. This act has three main components: workforce support and expansion, increasing affordability for families and adding infant and toddler care support.  

The act creates a stronger foundation for the workforce by increasing compensation, providing health insurance, professional development opportunities, technical assistance for providers, and increasing subsidy rates. These efforts demonstrate broad support for the diverse group of early learning teachers made possible due to advocacy efforts from our allies and their partners.  

The Fair Start for Kids Act also addresses the benefits cliff for families. The act increases affordability for families through copay reductions and expanding income eligibility based on the Washington state median income instead of the federal poverty line. Lastly, student parents are now eligible without working to receive a subsidy to provide care for their children. Student parents can finish their schooling faster while caring for their children.  

The act also includes grants for dual-language support systems, trauma-informed care training, equity services, and access to home-visiting services for infants and toddlers. Lastly, there is additional funding for “play and learn” groups for local families who may not be ready to attend a childcare center or do not have access to one.  

The Fair Start for Kids Act was part of bipartisan efforts to create a more robust early care and education infrastructure. This monumental legislation will make a remarkable difference for children and families in Washington state.  “We marvel at how the Washington State child care sector moved swiftly from teetering on the edge of total collapse one year ago to a system where these investments will serve thousands of new children, their families, and providers,” said Dr. Stephan Blanford, Executive Director of Children’s Alliance.

“Because of robust advocacy from parents, community and business leaders and others in the advocacy community, our legislature recognized how critical child care is to the restart of our economy and its role in responding to long standing racial and ethnic inequities.”

Dr. Stephen Blanford, Executive Director
Children’s Alliance

Budgetary Wins  

American Relief funding dollars will fund implementation of the Fair Start for Kids Act and eventually sustained by a new Capital Gains Excise Tax, which Alliance allies and their coalition also advocated for. Advocates are hopeful that the tax will support the child care infrastructure in Washington for children and families. Additionally, the Washington legislature allocated over $66 million for child care worker compensation and health coverage through federal relief funding dollars. The legislature secured $36 million for an increase in salary for child care workers. About 15,000 child care workers will be eligible to receive health coverage starting September 1st through the additional $30 million. These budgetary wins demonstrate sustainable investment towards Washington’s early care and education infrastructure.