Session ended on March 13 as scheduled. High-quality early learning was a key topic this session. There was a significant amount of conversation about the importance of high-quality early learning as well as ensuring continuity and stability of care for our most vulnerable children, largely prompted by the Early Start bill (HB 2377, SB 6127). Although the Early Start bill did not pass this year, a great deal of groundwork was done this session that will serve as a strong foundation for continued work over the interim and in the 2015 legislative session.
There were some significant “wins” in the budget and a policy victory related to child welfare.
- Interim strategy work has begun. Advocates and stakeholders are beginning work on interim strategy. “Interim” refers to the time between legislative sessions. The 2015 legislative session is a budget year, meaning it is scheduled for 105 days (opposed to 60 days in a non-budget year) and the Legislature must approve a two-year, or biennial, budget. Therefore, there is a lot of competition for both policy and budget priorities.
During a budget year, there is opportunity to seek maintenance or enhancements of certain investments as well as funding for new items. In early learning, there are some significant — and potentially significant — “cliffs” we will face when federal dollars cease for key strategies such as Early Achievers (Washington’s quality rating and improvement system), WaKIDS (Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills), and potentially home visiting services. Thus, the need for increased state investments to continue with those key system components is critical.
Even though session concluded just a week ago, advocates and stakeholders have begun work to advance policy and budget “asks” for the 2015 legislative session.
- Attention is now turning to campaign season. All seats in the House and half the seats in the Senate are up for re-election this year. Currently we have a Democratic majority in the House and a Democratic Governor; the Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) holds the majority in the Senate. The MCC is a coalition of two Democrats joined with Republicans. A big question is whether the MCC will hold the majority in the Senate after elections in November. This outcome will affect the tenor in Olympia.
The final budget included some significant victories for early learning, including:
- Increased investment in home visiting services through the Home Visiting Services Account to help certain vulnerable families. The investment is intended to prioritize services for families with babies who participate in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF families are able to have an infant exemption, meaning while the baby is younger than 12 months of age, the mother may be exempt from Work First required activities. Home visiting services are a way to help support these families. Underspent TANF funds will be re-directed to support families through home visiting.
- $16.631 million in funding for an 8 percent base rate increase for Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) providers. This includes both family home and center providers. WCCC is our state’s child care subsidy program to help families who are working poor afford child care.
- $4.905 million for a tiered reimbursement pilot and a base rate increase for seasonal and homeless child Care. Here is how that amount breaks out:
- $2.369 million for a tiered reimbursement pilot in child care centers. This means a center’s higher quality ratings correspond with a higher reimbursement rate.
- $2.237 million for a base rate increase for seasonal and homeless child care, plus a tiered reimbursement pilot in family child care homes
- $299,000 for a rate increase for center-based seasonal and homeless child care
- Funding to support providers who care for children in the child welfare and foster care systems. Included is $1.505 million to help with base rate increases in family child care and centers, as well as $377,000 for a tiered reimbursement pilot for family home and center-based providers.
- $50,000 for Reach Out and Read, a program that supports doctors and medical professionals in getting developmentally appropriate early literacy information in the hands of parents with young children.
- See additional information about the final budget in the Department of Early Learning blog.
Funding for Early Start was not included in the budget. Twelve-month authorization for WCCC eligibility, contracted slots, and supports for low-income providers were among the components included in Early Start.
- Child welfare bill passed. HB 2519 increases access to early learning opportunities for children in the child welfare system.
- ELAC bill did not pass. HB 2282, which sought to add permanent voting representation to the Early Learning Advisory Council (ELAC), made it out of the House but died in the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee.
- Early Start bill did not pass. HB 2377, an omnibus and bold bill focused on high-quality care, made it out of the House but died in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.