One of the best economic investments we can make
What We Know
A child’s first and best teachers are their parents. Regardless of region, political party, or ethnicity, every parent wants the best for their child. The economic reality in our state, however, means that 60% of Washington children under age 6 have all parents working – and thus every region and community in our state grapples with the critical need for early childhood care and education.
Children begin learning at birth. Over 90% of human brain growth happens between birth and age 6, and during these years kids learn a staggering set of skills – to walk, talk, play, feel empathy, count, regulate their emotions, feel curiosity, reason, engage with others and with ideas, and to persist towards a goal, to name a few. Children’s experiences during these early years help determine the very architecture of their brains, and have long-lasting impact on their ability to thrive and succeed as they grow into adults.
The first six years of a child’s life is a crucial window of opportunity that our state can maximize. For example, researchers confirmed that a two-year dosage of Washington’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) – a pre-kindergarten program for low-income families – eliminates the income-based kindergarten readiness gap. National research confirms that children in high-quality early learning programs are more prepared for kindergarten, more likely to graduate high school, healthier, more likely to be employed, and report higher income. They are also less likely to repeat grades, be placed in special education, be involved in the juvenile justice system, and commit crimes as adults. The individual and societal benefits gained from high-quality early childhood education programs return $5.74 for every dollar our state invests.
Every baby born in Washington state represents a new hope for the future. As they grow, will we ignore the window of opportunity they present? Or will we invest in a prosperous shared future?
What We Should Do
LEV advocates for a two-pronged approach to ensure every child in Washington state can access an early childhood education that lays the foundation for their future success. The table below summarizes the components of what we believe needs to happen, and explains why we’ve identified it as a key lever for change.
1. Build a strong economic base for early childhood education
Increase reimbursement rates
|Reimbursement rates are the funding that the state disburses to early childhood education providers that care for children from low-income families that qualify for Working Connections Child Care (WCCC). Washington state currently does not reimburse providers the full cost of care in any region. In some regions, the state is only reimbursing providers for as little as 50% of the cost of care.
|When the state doesn’t reimburse providers for the cost of care for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers from low-income families, it hurts providers, low-income families, and the regional childcare sector.
· Low reimbursement rates mean that providers limit the slots offered to children from low-income families – if they don’t, they risk going out of business. It also makes it hard for providers to pay their staff a living wage.
· Low reimbursement rates and the limited availability of slots for children from low-income families also means their parents have a hard time finding high-quality programs to care for their children; some parents contact as many as 30 or 40 providers before finding a safe, loving place for their children while they work.
· Low reimbursement rates also undermine the economic foundation for the early childhood sector – lower reimbursement rates mean fewer providers can successfully run their business, their workers are less likely to receive a living wage, and destabilizes child care availability overall.
Restore funding to Early Achievers coaching & Professional Development
|Early Achievers is Washington’s Quality Rating Improvement System for child care facilities serving children from birth to age 5. Our state’s implementation of Early Achievers makes us a leader among the 36 other states that are in the process of implementing or testing a quality rating system. Child care centers, licensed family child care homes, Head Start, ECEAP, tribal, and military facilities can participate in Early Achievers. Providers that participate in Early Achievers can get personalized coaching and supports to achieve higher rating levels, receive professional development for their staff, and are eligible for higher reimbursement rates from the state.
When a parent knows that a provider has achieved an L3 rating or above, they can be assured that the provider is providing safe, loving, and high-quality care that does the developmentally appropriate work to get kids ready for kindergarten.
|During the recession, the state legislature had to make tough decisions about what parts of the budget were “needs” vs. “wants.” We all want high-quality child care, our children and families need it, and now that our state is no longer experiencing a recession, we can spend the necessary money to make sure that all providers who want to participate in Early Achievers will be able to access the high-quality professional development and supports – and that the Early Achievers coaches who provide those supports don’t have untenable caseloads.
Supporting providers to offer high-quality childcare is part of the commitment our state made as part of Early Achievers, and we need to remind legislators that high standards for providers should be accompanied by the supports they need to achieve those standards.
Work for pay parity between early childhood & K-12
|Early childhood education teachers are increasingly expected to earn a bachelor’s degree – in fact, staff with BA result in automatically higher ratings in the Early Achievers rating system. But in Washington, an early childhood teacher anywhere in the state earns approximately 50% of the base salary for kindergarten teachers. A plan for pay parity would mean that early childhood educators – who are working with children at the greatest time of brain growth and development – would be compensated at the same rate as a teacher in the K-12 system.
|· Low wages destabilize the ECE sector. They directly create high teacher turnover, and higher costs for providers as they are forced to seek and train new teachers at a rate of almost 20% of the earnings associated with the position.
· Low wages and high turnover are also associated with high wage stress in a sector in which teacher emotional and financial well-being directly impact the children they teach during an age range of greatest brain growth and plasticity. Research shows that stressed or depressed teachers have been observed to be less sensitive, more intrusive, harsher, more likely to consider their relationships with children as conflictual, and more prone to consider and act on expelling children from their care.
· High turnover also means the loss of developmentally essential relationships for children served by childcare workers.
2. Target funding to close opportunity gaps
Increase investment in targeted home visiting
|Home visiting is an early childhood education strategy in which a nurse or other professional coordinates services to families in their home. Targeted home visiting is when the services are provided to the most at-risk families.
|LEV advocates for targeted home visiting because it is an intervention strategy proven by four decades of research to significantly improve kindergarten readiness for children born to low income families. Improved educational outcomes also include higher grade point averages (GPAs), higher language scores, higher achievement scores at age nine, and even higher high school graduation rates. Targeted home visiting helps parents provide the nurturing kids need at just the right point in their lives, and decreases the likelihood of abuse or neglect while improving family economic self-sufficiency.
|ECEAP, our state’s pre-kindergarten program for low income families, provides comprehensive education, health, and family support services to our most at-risk preschoolers. ECEAP is not only a good investment –it returns $5.74 of benefits for each dollar we invest now – it catalyzes learning at one of the greatest time periods of brain growth and plasticity.
|· Our state has a 30-point kindergarten readiness gap – only 31% of kindergarteners from low income families are fully school ready, compared to 60% of their non-low income peers. Researchers found that at the end of one year of ECEAP, 55% of ECEAP four-year-olds – all of them children of low-income parents – are fully kindergarten ready. At the end of two years of ECEAP, 67% of four-year-olds are fully kindergarten ready. In other words, a dosage of two years of ECEAP more than doubles the kindergarten readiness rates for children from low income families, from 31% to 67%, and eliminates the 30-point income-based kindergarten readiness gap.
· Head Start & ECEAP are particularly efficient providers – serving an average of 71 kids per site (similar to other child care centers) but with much more intensive wrap around service provision than is available elsewhere and with impressive education results.
Expand district-run pre-K programs per child care deserts & student outcomes
|K-12 school districts have been quietly implementing pre-K in various ways. Sometimes it looks like a full-on pre-K program, others host ECEAP and Head Start sites, sometimes they engage with and provide a space for play-and-learn groups for children and their caregivers, or a district may implement a “kindergarten jumpstart” program that starts several weeks before kindergarten classes commence. A few districts have also implemented a 12-week early learning bootcamp required for all their elementary principals, to ensure they understand developmental milestones and best practices.
These strategies are especially important in childcare deserts – any region with more than 50 children under age 5 that contains either no early childhood education providers, or so few options that there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots. And, these strategies have the potential for long-lasting impact in districts with the lowest graduation rates, or high numbers of children eligible for free or reduced lunch.
|Washington has more data on early childhood education than ever before, but it is impractical if we don’t use it. We can not only identify all early childhood education deserts in the state with current data, but could combine that with at least 20 years of graduation rate and assessment pass rate data to identify the districts that should be incentivized to create district-wide early learning plans in collaboration with the existing early child care providers in their district. Such targeted, thoughtful, and data-informed implementation can lead us to universal early childhood education access by the time babies born this year reach adulthood.
How We Can Do It
It requires public will, commitment, and work to make sure our elected leaders respond to the needs of the 60% of families in Washington state who must, for their economic survival, use formal or informal early childhood education. In this process, the families most directly affected – working families with young children – often have the least amount of time and energy to advocate.
But all our babies have grandparents, and aunties and uncles, and older cousins, and neighbors who love them and want the best possible start for them. All our parents have employers and supervisors and child-free coworkers who know that the working parents at their organization are more reliable and more focused on producing their best work when they don’t have to worry about whether their child is safe and loved while they are at work. Our state’s prosperity and future depends on our willingness, now, to advocate for the best start for all our kids.
LEV believes our state can build a strong economic base for early childhood education by:
- Incrementally increasing reimbursement rates to the cost of care within five years
- Give providers the supports they were promised by restoring all Early Achievers PD & coaching funding
- Begin the work towards early learning/K-12 teacher compensation parity by legislation that tasks OFM and DCYF to complete a 15-year plan to achieve pay parity
LEV believes our state can and must target early learning funding towards closing opportunity gaps by:
- Maximizing our opportunity to draw down and use federal money to support our earliest learners by investing an additional $9M in state funding to expand home visiting to 1,200 more families
- Continuing to meet ECEAP entitlement commitments
- Creating an incentive grant program for districts with low numbers of early childhood education providers and low graduation rates to implement a menu of early childhood education strategies
How You Can Help
Do your homework to advocate for the birth to age 5 kids in your life.
- Are you registered to vote? If not, click here & register!
- Do you know your legislators? If not, click here and study the legislator profiles for your district.
- Sign up for LEV’s action alert list here, and make sure you indicate that you are interested in early childhood education advocacy.
- Develop your personal message on early childhood education for legislators in our state by filling out the following grid:
Your personal message
|Who I am
|“I live in the 32nd district and I am the proud grandfather to seven, five of whom are under 5 years old.”
“I’m the working mothing of a 3 year old in Seattle.”
|Who I represent
|“I was talking with other grandparents at my church, and we all had similar concerns.”
“Every mother at my son’s preschool feels the same way – so grateful to have excellent childcare, and worried for all the kids who can’t access the same thing.”
|“Our kids are killing themselves to make enough money to afford childcare, and our grandkids feel the stress too.”
“We’re so lucky to be able to afford a Montessori program that allows our son to thrive, and I want that for every other kid in our state.”
|Why this matters
|“I want all the grandkids in our community to have parents that can stress out more about whether their kid is meeting their milestones than affording the childcare they need in order to support the whole family.”
“Part of why our Montessori school is so loving is because they have enough resources to pay their workers a living wage. They don’t have nearly the staff turnover that other programs have, and all the teachers are really tuned into our kids’ needs.”
|What I want them to do
|“This session can you please make sure that you take care of our youngest learners? If you and your colleagues increase the reimbursement rates for Working Connections Child Care, it will help stabilize the early childhood education sector across the state.”
“Early childhood teachers are supporting kids when 90% of their brain growth & development happens. It’s crazy to me that they aren’t compensated at the same levels as teachers in the K-12 system, and I think the legislature could begin to work on pay parity if they at least asked DCYF to put together a plan to achieve parity.”
- Call or email your legislators and tell them you would like them to support early childhood education – you can use the information you developed in the grid above.
- Write a thank-you letter to a legislator who has stood up for early childhood education.
- Get involved with MomsRising or another parent advocacy group.
Developing Your Advocacy Skillset
- Start a letter writing or phone calling campaign. The more contacts a legislator has on an issue, the more they pay attention. See if your daycare, religious organization, senior center, or playgroup would be willing to host a letter writing party – or send out an email to people who think like you in your district, with a form letter that people can personalize to send their own email.
- Attend community meetings, town halls, or other legislative meetings in your district. Speak up about how access to high-quality childcare positively impacts children and families. You can use your message developed in the grid above if you get facetime with a legislator, or to ask a question in a town hall. Remember that early childhood education is not a partisan issue, and every family in Washington benefits from expanded access to high quality early learning.
- Get involved in a voter registration campaign in your community.
- Attend an advocacy day in Olympia with our partners at the Children’s Alliance! You can find information on their next advocacy day here.
- Help a local early learning provider coordinate a legislator visit to their program. Site visits allow a decision-maker to see the impact access to early learning has in your community – and how reimbursement rates, Early Achievers coaching and professional development, pay parity, home visiting, ECEAP, and school district early learning programs positively impact children and families in their district. If the visit is timed right – say during drop-off or pick-up rush hours – parents who might not otherwise have the time or resources can tell the legislator how the program supports them and their families.
- Meet directly with a legislator, or organize a group meeting with a legislator. Although this takes a lot of planning & willingness to accommodate busy legislator schedules, it allows a legislator to put a face and name with the issue. Keep your meeting focused, with one central “ask” on what you would like the legislator to do and why it matters. If they ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, be sure to tell them “I don’t know, but I’ll follow up with you.” This is actually the best possible situation, because it turns a two-touch visit (one touch to schedule, one touch to meet in person) into a three-touch visit (an addition touch to follow up with the information they asked for).
- K–12 education
- Postsecondary education
- Funding a way forward
- Addendum and sources
- Download A Way Forward
- Download the executive summary