Though virtual, the February 5 Early Learning Advisory Council, meeting was typical in presenters and topics covered. The scheduling of a virtual meeting was quite fortuitous, as it occurred on the second consecutive no-school-snow-day in our district and provided a welcome distraction and excuse not to shovel snow off the sidewalk.
Susan Barbeau from First 5 Fundamentals and Nancy Spurgeon from Wenatchee Valley College told the group about the recently formed organization, Washington Communities for Children. It’s a network of regional early learning coalitions that have more impact together than separately, chartered in September 2018. Their mission is: Connecting local communities and statewide efforts to improve the well-being of children, families and communities. For more information, check out their brand-new website: https://www.washingtoncfc.org/
Stacy Gillette, a policy analyst from the Department of Children, Youth and Families Office of Innovation, Alignment, and Accountability, spoke about performance-based contracting standards. DCYF has about 1200 contracts for child services, allocating between $900,000,000 and $1,000,000,000 per biennium. The office holds the belief that performance-based contracting can be a tool to help eliminate disproportionality and disparities in the allocation of contracts and services. For additional information: https://www.dcyf.wa.gov/practice/oiaa/agency-performance/contract
Frank Ordway, DCYF Director of Government Affairs and Community Engagement, gave an update on the recent racial equity work done by the department. The broad goal is to deal with issues of disproportionality, inclusion and equity in the systems that DCYF runs. This work shouldn’t require additional funding, rather maximizing that existing staff to ensure that the agency is doing the right thing. It’s about:
- Hiring—Do our job descriptions allow people to see themselves in them? Our agency should be as diverse as the people we serve. How are we recruiting? People who do this work need to be culturally responsive.
- Services—Are the services proactive and preventative? Are they reaching the programs that they should? What’s their diversity? Is access equitable? Are outcomes equitable? We need to prioritize those farthest from success.
- Processes and policies—As an example, background checks showed that over half the background checks that were disqualified were for Theft 3, a crime for which people of color are disproportionately arrested.
For additional information and resources: https://www.dcyf.wa.gov/practice/racial-equity-diversity-inclusion
After a lunch break, Frank Ordway addressed the current legislative session. He stated that more bills have dropped this session than any other and attributed it to the fact that there are so many freshman legislators. This session DCYF is watching:
- Early Support for Infants and Toddlers—state law currently requires school districts to provide this service, the current bill shifts the funding from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to DCYF. He expects to see an increase in funding; the program isn’t reaching enough families and the rates need to increase. https://www.dcyf.wa.gov/services/child-development-supports/esit
- Home Visiting—It’s a light-touch voluntary program that has proven to be remarkably effective with folks with infants and toddlers in their homes. It helps families find their way to services offered by the state. The agency seeks to build a wide array of services so that every family in the state can find what they need when they need it. https://www.dcyf.wa.gov/services/child-development-supports/home-visiting
- Working Connections Child Care–Expansion of the program and increasing provider compensation are the big issues this session. In the past year rates have increased, but not sufficiently. https://www.dcyf.wa.gov/services/earlylearning-childcare/getting-help/wccc
- Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program aka ECEAP—It’s effective, so DCYF is asking for more slots and rate increases. The current eligibility rate is 110% of federal poverty level, legislation is suggesting it be raised to 130% of federal poverty level. Another way to increase eligibility is to automatically include all tribal children and all homeless children. The ECEAP sabbatical (the gap in coverage between a child’s 3rd birthday when they age out of ESIT and the start of the next school year when they can join an ECEP classroom) also needs to be addressed. In the end, it’s going to require DCYF to ask for a balance of new slots and higher rates.
Frank wrapped up with an exhortation to write, (yes, on paper with a pen), letters to members of the legislature who are on either the House Appropriations or Senate Ways & Means committees. Early learning has good bipartisan support; those committees represent the state, ask away!
Finally, Deanna Stewart with the DCYF Office of Government Affairs and Community Engagement, led a discussion about stakeholder advisory mechanisms. She questioned how the current mechanism could be improved in policy or practice. Currently 48 advisory groups to DCYF exist, and bills for 19 more are in the legislature. An array of advisory groups is important; the individuals in each group should know that their time is well spent, that their advice is taken, and they can see that they made a difference. Refining and realigning of advisory groups will continue during 2019.