The February Early Learning Advisory Council (ELAC) meeting was held on Tuesday, February 4, online rather than in person.  This report is compiled by WFIS’ ELAC Representative for Private Schools, Chelle Downey Magee, who is also the Director of Issaquah Montessori.

Tracie Kenny with the Preschool Development Grant (PDG) team started the meeting, discussing the most recent grant that will provide $34,000,000 over three years. Funds are used based on a state-wide needs assessment and strategic plan. This plan, involving many stakeholders is on a short timeline, with final review in April 2020. The vision for the strategic plan is:

Washington State is a place each child starts life with a solid foundation for success based on strong families, culturally relevant early learning practices, services, and supports that lead to racial equity and the well-being of all children and families.

And the values:

  • We keep families and children at the core of all we do
  • We are culturally responsive
  • We lead with racial equity
  • We collaborate with communities

For more about the PDG:

Next, Allison Krutsinger, Department of Children Youth & Families (DCYF) Deputy Director of Government Affairs, spoke about integrated early learning. Governor Inslee has requested that DCYF Secretary Hunter and OSPI Superintendent Chris Reykdal work together to figure out how to use funding that allows school districts to operate preschools, otherwise known as transitional kindergarten. They’d like to braid the funding streams to create a connected and integrated system, to be delivered in public school and community settings. DCYF values mixed delivery models and feels that it’s important that community pathways are available. With 295 school districts DCYF wants to ensure that transitional kindergarten is high quality, with equitable access. DCYF intends to engage with community stakeholders. In Allison’s word, “Stay tuned!”

Vickie Ybarra, from the DCYF Office of Innovation, Alignment and Accountability, spoke about the DCYF strategic plan. The intent of the plan is to align the work of the new agency and make improvements in child outcomes. To see how they’ve done so far, take a look at the Child Outcomes Report.

The new strategic plan final draft is due to be finished by the end of April. It includes five strategic priority areas:

  1. Safely reduce the number/rate of children in out-of-home care by half
  2. Create successful transitions into adulthood for youth and young adults in our care
  3. Create a high-quality integrated Birth-5 Years system
  4. Improve quality and intention in our practice
  5. Improve quality and availability of provider services

The final Strategic Plan will be published on the DCYF website.

Frank Ordway, DCYF Director of Government Affairs and Community Engagement, provided a legislative update. He began with the concise items:

  • a lot of work is going on around the Preschool Development Grant—we should expect more news
  • the Family First Prevention Services Act is done and submitted to the federal government. We’re learning from other states.

Then moved on to the current session:

  • Moving the Early Support for Infants & Toddlers program from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to DCYF should pass easily, as there is not a request for funds involved.
  • Two omnibus bills connected to the Fair Start Act are broad and sweeping, and expensive, and may not pass this session, but they’ve laid groundwork going forward.
  • Professional development for early childhood professional can happen in places other than community college classrooms. The bill is asking for community-based pathways, and an extended timeline for providers to meet the education requirements.
  • Three bills related to Working Connections Childcare (WCC). The first would make the high school students eligible to enroll their children in care using WCC. The second would lengthen the period that a homeless family is eligible for WCC from 4 months to 12 months. Finally, the period of eligibility would begin when the child starts receiving services.
  • Background checks inspired an intense conversation. Grants from the federal government have strings that include more stringent requirements than Washington state (and many other states). Providers have voiced their frustration with the system and requirement. Multiple agencies are involved in every background check—it’s not a recipe for efficiency. DCYF is looking toward a longer-term solution, while an August deadline (the end of a 1-year exemption) looms large.

Finally, Frank mentioned that DCYF would hold a webinar when the budgets come out, “If you’re not in either you’re in big trouble.” The next ELAC meeting is on March 31, in Olympia where he’ll talk about “what’s in, what’s out, what’s whiffed and what we need to do next.” The timing is perfect for a review of policy.