Legislative Momentum Builds for State's Bipartisan Early Start Act


Bipartisan legislation that would strengthen the backbone of Washington state’s early education system, professional training for child care providers, and open a new chapter in the state’s push to create a high-quality system of child care and preschool now readies for the second half of the legislative session.


This week, companion Early Start Act legislation passed both the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support. The ambitious legislation would expand high-quality child care statewide by strengthening Early Achievers, the state’s quality rating and improvement system for licensed child care. The heart of both bills is about helping parents find high-quality care and learning opportunities that work best for their children; getting more children ready for kindergarten; and helping more child care providers offer high-quality, culturally responsive care.


“I think the key in this bill is quality matters,” said Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle, who sponsored the House bill and chairs the House Early Learning & Human Services Committee. “This bill establishes expectations, the rating system and the support for providers to get the quality (training), and the mandate that they must provide quality in order to receive state funds.”


“Research shows that children who receive high-quality early learning are more likely to graduate high school with greater academic achievement,” said Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, who sponsored the Senate bill and chairs the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. “High-quality early learning is a proven means of closing the opportunity gap just as low-quality programs actually hurt development. The Early Start Act is all about quality.”


The Early Start Act values professional development for early educators because it’s key to high-quality care. One of the bill’s most important provisions would provide culturally responsive coaching to teachers.


“Policies that support cultural responsiveness by means of coaching are really promising. Things like cultural competency are often articulated as priorities in state standards or guidelines, but there’s rarely much serious support for showing educators what it looks like to meaningfully change their practice. Dedicated coaching services could make a real difference,” Conor Williams, senior researcher in Washington-DC-based New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program, wrote during an email interview.


The same could be said for creating professional development opportunities teachers can’t get to because they are too busy. To address this, the legislation would create a pool of substitutes to ensure educators can go to training.


Early Start legislation is not on its way to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk yet. The House and Senate must reconcile their versions of the bill and pass a final bill. They also need to approve money in the state budget to pay for this new early learning support.


But, the overwhelming support for the legislation – it passed the House by a vote of 67 to 31 and the Senate by 39 to 10 – shows the deep bipartisan backing for early education in Washington that has fueled investments and reforms during the last decade. Those investments have moved the state among the nation’s leaders in early education.


“When we change the beginning of the story, we can change the whole story,” Rep. Kagi said. “A strong start for children leads to more successful schools, stronger families, more self-reliant adults and safer communities. It’s as simple as pay now or pay a lot more later.”