Where do you go for the top news in Early Learning at the state level? Check out “5 Questions for the Governor,” where we’ll explore the top Early Learning challenges and successes in states across the nation. We’re thrilled to partner with The Hunt Institute on this series. Read them all.
1. In 2019, you signed a package of education bills, one of the most progressive education investments nationwide, providing unprecedented access to degrees, certificates and apprenticeship qualifications. In what ways have you seen this package impact the education workforce?
We have come a long way in education, and we have focused on how to prepare students for rewarding careers. K-12 education funding has increased by more than 30%, at over $15 billion per year. It has grown to represent more than half of our state operating budget.
We created Career Connect for students in high school and college to get work experience with Washington employers and get credit for their diploma or postsecondary program at the same time. We now have more than 10,000 students participating in these programs.
With the new Washington College Grant, we have made state financial aid a free tuition program for more students than ever before. We’re currently serving about 97,000 students with this program. We also invested over $2 billion for salary increases for educators and expanded health care coverage for educators. We funded four days of training for paraeducators—the first state to do this—and expanded programs to increase the diversity of our educator workforce.
“I’m also proud to see the near completion of a child care center on our state capital campus. Quality child care should be available and affordable for all working parents and having a child care center near the workplace will encourage prospective employees to view the state as an employer of choice. I’m looking forward to seeing this model replicated by other employers in Washington.” — Governor Jay Inslee
We have invested in climate education with some great programs that connect what is happening in the climate to their local communities. We are expanding our mental health workforce in schools to give students the support they need.
2. Washington State currently provides a number of high-quality early learning programs that prevent child abuse and neglect, and prepare children for kindergarten. You have made expansion of early learning a top priority, doubling the number of children in early learning programs since 2013. In what ways do you see this priority of early childhood contributing the overall success of the state?
High-quality early learning programs, particularly our preschool programs, have demonstrated their success in different ways. Not only do they promote overall well-being and prepare children for kindergarten, they support parents on the path to greater economic security for their families. Investments in high-quality early childhood also benefit local communities and society at large by reducing the need for more expensive interventions later. Research demonstrates participation in high-quality early learning programs can help children avoid special education, grade repetition, teenage parenthood and incarceration. In addition, parents who participate in early childhood programs with wraparound supports, such as mobility mentoring, are more likely to remain employed over the long term.
3. In 2018, the culmination of a two-year effort to transform the way Washington serves at-risk children and families resulted in the launch of the state’s new Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). How has this alignment helped support children and families, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?
DCYF is still very much in the process of integrating the various program areas that were merged to create the agency. This work will take time and should be approached thoughtfully. Early on, DCYF created a single list of disqualifying crimes and negative actions for both child welfare and early learning/child care licensing. DCYF engaged in a yearlong process to develop the list, resulting in eliminating crimes that do not impact child safety, permanence or well-being. The new list removes some barriers for relatives and other suitable persons to provide care for children and helps to keep more families together.
Another early effort focused on engaging navigators to assist child welfare-involved families with finding and enrolling in high-quality early learning services. Early learning navigators—who have expertise in both the child welfare and early learning systems—help address a service referral gap by working alongside caseworkers to ensure interested child welfare-involved families successfully start in services. Since the pilot began, the agency has seen a 65% increase in the proportion of children referred to, assessed for or enrolled in an early learning program.
With respect to pandemic-specific family supports, when K-12 classrooms closed, DCYF was able to more easily coordinate access to school-age child care and in-home tutoring supports for foster and kinship caregivers who needed this level of support for the children in their care. Early in the pandemic, DCYF was able to quickly work with contractors and allow flexibility in how services were delivered, with a focus on preventing family isolation and the attendant risks created by the pandemic.
4. The 2019-21 biennial budgetboosts the state’s early learning system with a 6 percent rate increase to help improve pay for providers in the state early learning program. How do you see investments like this contributing to the understanding of the importance early childhood education plays?
Since the establishment of the Department of Early Learning back in 2006, we’ve seen a lot of growth in awareness about early brain development and the importance of getting it right in the early years. The recent passage of the Fair Start for Kids Act is a historic investment in both early learning and child care, and it’s a great example of how our understanding about the importance of early childhood has advanced over the past few decades.
5. As you reflect on Washington’s initiatives for early childhood care and education, what makes you most proud of state’s support for children? What are your goals for this work moving forward?
Our state is home to some absolutely amazing advocacy coalitions and philanthropic organizations, and they have been key partners over the years in raising awareness about the need for and the value of investing in our state’s youngest residents. I’ve also met some outstanding parent advocates who have first-hand knowledge of the benefits of ECEAP and Head Start, and their participation in both advocacy and policy development adds tremendous value to the work.
Since 2013, Washington has increased the number of Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) enrollment slots from fewer than 6,000 to nearly 15,000 slots, with the longer-term goal of funding the program as an entitlement. ECEAP is Washington’s pre-kindergarten program that prepares 3- and 4-year-old children from families furthest from opportunity for success in school and in life.
The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed our progress somewhat, but we remain committed to funding the entitlement by the 2026-27 school year. In the meantime, DCYF continues to partner with school districts and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to explore options for aligning all the high-quality, early learning programs administered by the agencies.
I’m also proud to see the near completion of a child care center on our state capital campus. Quality child care should be available and affordable for all working parents and having a child care center near the workplace will encourage prospective employees to view the state as an employer of choice. I’m looking forward to seeing this model replicated by other employers in Washington.
Goals moving forward? I would like to more clearly define the ECEAP entitlement so that we can better prepare for and implement the entitlement, which is scheduled to take effect in the 2026-27 school year. Clearly defining the entitlement is critical to understanding and meeting our capital and workforce needs, gauging demand for enrollment and being able to braid different preschool funding streams in order to increase access to high-quality preschool for all of Washington’s children. There is significant potential to raise the quality of preschool for children receiving special education services and to increase overall access to preschool in rural and remote areas of the state.
With the investments and policy advancements contained in the Fair Start Act, we have a lot of implementation work on the horizon. I have every confidence Washington will be successful.