This summer WFIS met with early education leaders, advocacy organizations, legislators and school leadership to discover priorities for early learning advocacy.  As WFIS develops its advocacy agenda for this year, here are a couple of early learning issues WFIS is analyzing:

The Expansion of ECEAP (Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program):  ECEAP is Washington’s pre-kindergarten program for low-income 3- and 4-year-old children and their families. To promote school success, ECEAP provides preschool education, family support, and health and nutrition services.   In 2020 ECEAP will be an entitlement program meaning all children who qualify will have access to the program.  It will no longer be a first come, first serve, limited resource.  This change has significant implications for Washington.

To support the reality of ECEAP becoming an entitlement program, it will need considerable expansion.  However, facility space is an oft-discussed problem at the public schools.  Schools are competing with the class size reduction and all-day kindergarten mandates.  On the other hand, there are private schools that have space available in their buildings or on their property. The question at hand is, “Do private schools want to become involved in a public program that helps low-income students have access to quality childcare?”

Many private school early learning programs serve low-income families by accepting subsidies and offering significant financial aid. Although ECEAP requires a specific educational program and access to wrap around services in ways that might be foreign to some private schools, there are ways to support an ECEAP program within a school without dramatically changing the childcare program. One way is to add one ECEAP classroom to the school that is run either by the school or by a third-party that rents space from the school.

Whether or not private schools will be interested in joining forces with the Department of Early Learning to increase capacity for ECEAP is yet to be determined.  In the meantime, the state will be sending out a survey to ask about the potential partnership. WFIS asks that our schools return the survey so private schools can clearly demonstrate their level of interest.

Early Learning Teacher Compensation:  Early Learning Teachers have been the underdog of the professional education world for a long time.  They are significantly underpaid in many programs statewide and undereducated in many childcare and family home center settings.  DEL is pushing hard to change both of these realities.  They are demanding more education for teachers and want higher incomes to attract more good people to the field.

In the private school world it is clear that the way programs raise teachers’ salaries is to charge parents more tuition. Not all schools can afford to do this, and many of our teachers stay with a school out of love of the children and passion for the mission of a school.  This is how we hire and retain good teachers and why parents often stay in our programs through elementary school. However, with the push for better wages, comes the interest of the unions to negotiate on behalf of teachers.  Currently the Family Home Childcare teachers are unionized.  The unions want to expand.  WFIS has had experience with this before. We will keep you posted.

In the meantime, professional education opportunities for early learning teachers are flourishing.  WFIS will keep you in the know about these through our website- stay tuned!

Department of Early Learning Budget Ask

DEL submitted a budget package to the Governor asking for 300 million dollars in the next biennium.  Their priorities for this money include ECEAP expansion, mitigating negative repercussions to the Working Connections waitlist that seem inevitable, an electronic attendance tool, and aligning childcare licensing and ECEAP within Early Achievers Framework.

These efforts, DEL believes, will help them reach their ultimate goal of getting 90% of all 5 year olds “Kindergarten Ready.”  Currently, according to their data, only 46% of all 5 year olds are “Kindergarten Ready.” They have a ways to go, but if their ask becomes reality, they will have sufficient funds to support these efforts.