Bringing High-Quality Early Learning to Kids and Families in Washington State
This is Part 3 of a new blog series to reignite a conversation about poverty in Washington state.
As Washington State policymakers consider the education funding challenges before them, they should remember that quality early childhood education forms the foundation for future success in school and gives families with low incomes economic stability. The proposed Early Start Act presents a unique opportunity during this legislative session to increase investments in policies that we know work for kids and families.
High-quality, reliable early-learning opportunities set both children and their families up for success. Parents who can go to work knowing that their child is in a safe and nurturing environment are more productive. And kids who benefit from experiences that support their healthy development – intellectually, emotionally and socially – are more likely to arrive at kindergarten ready for success.
When parents struggle to find affordable, high-quality care for their children, the entire family suffers. In Washington state, child care costs can eat up more than a quarter of a family’s monthly income – one of the many reasons why 71 percent of 3- and 4-years-olds from low-income backgrounds do not attend preschool in our state. This not only impairs the education and development of our kids, it also means parents struggle to find stable employment, putting the entire family at risk.
This doesn’t have to be the story in Washington state. In fact, we have several tools at our disposal to ensure that all kids and families in our state can have access to high-quality, affordable early learning opportunities that meet the needs of families from all economic and cultural backgrounds.
The Early Start Act would move Washington state in the right direction by (see factsheet below):
- Ensuring continuity of care for families receiving Working Connections Child Care Subsidies (WCCC)- Washington state’s largest child care subsidy program. The Early Start Act would ensure that families could receive WCCC subsidies for 12 continuous months, improving quality of care by strengthening the relationship between children and their caregivers and giving peace of mind to parents while they work or look for a job.
- Expanding the system to improve access for families and targeting resources to address the opportunity gap. The Early Start Act increases access to all models of Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP) services—Washington state’s version of the federally funded Head Start program. This will remove barriers for families by improving access to fit parents' needs and set kids up for success in kindergarten and beyond. To make certain that this expansion means increased access to quality early learning opportunities, the act also expands Early Achievers. Early Achievers is the quality rating and improvement system that helps to ensure providers can get the training and support they need to improve their overall quality and that parents have the information they need to make the right choices in child care for their families. Expanding the Early Achievers program will help ensure that providers can respond to the needs of their communities and provide high-quality, culturally, and linguistically competent early learning experiences
- Investing in and retaining a diverse child care workforce. The Early Start Act acknowledges that an increasingly diverse state like Washington requires an equally diverse set of child care options for families and kids. By expanding Early Achievers with intentional focus on reducing barriers to success through additional incentives and supports for providers serving our communities furthest from opportunity, the act will give providers access to the resources needed to meet new quality standards. The act would also award subsidized slots to providers that demonstrate high-quality standards, thereby improving access to high-quality care for families with low incomes.
The Early Start Act is a great place to start, but policymakers can supplement this investment and truly set our kids and families up for continued success by also investing in programs and policies like home visiting programs, infant and early childhood mental health consultation, dual language immersion, and Reach Out and Read.
While access to high-quality early learning opportunities is vital for a family’s current and future success, it is just one of the many factors affecting the economic security of families with low and moderate incomes in Washington state. Our kids and families also need access to safe and affordable housing, transportation, nutritious food, and healthcare. Throughout session we will continue to highlight opportunities available to policymakers and why a two-generation approach – one that focuses on children and their families together – can put all Washingtonians on a path to greater prosperity.
For more information on the two generation approach, read the first post in our series. Click here to download a printable version of the early childhood education infographic. To learn more about what policymakers can do to improve access to high quality early learning during this upcoming session, take a look at the Early Learning Action Alliance (ELAA) legislative agenda.
The Budget and Policy Center staff would like to thank Jennifer Jennings-Shaffer, Early Learning Policy Director from the Children's Alliance, and Katy Warren, Deputy Director from the Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP, for their contributions to this post.