Washington State 2022 Legislative Wrap-up
Continued investments in high-quality preschool quality and access
In Washington State, Council for a Strong America’s work focuses on the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, or ECEAP (pronounced “e-cap”). ECEAP is a proven, high-quality program that helps our state’s most vulnerable three- and four-year-olds get a strong start in life, prepares them for success in school, and is comprehensive to support the health of children and self-sufficiency of families.
Council for a Strong America (CSA) does business in Washington State as Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, Mission: Readiness, and ReadyNation. Our CSA membership is law enforcement leaders, retired military leaders, and business leaders who support proven strategies that help our youngest learners be successful in school and life, graduate on time, and have optimal post-secondary opportunities.
Legislative session – overall and early learning
The 2022 legislative session concluded on March 10, 2022. The 2022 legislative session was a supplemental budget year or what we refer to as a “short session” because it is scheduled for 60-days rather than 105-days. Our Legislature drafts two-year, or biennial, budgets for operating, capital, and transportation in the odd-numbered years. In the even-numbered years, the Legislature makes adjustments to the two-year budget based on case load forecasts and uptake to ensure programs and services are paid for at the appropriate levels. Additionally, supplemental budget years can be times to ask for new investments, but it is typically not a time to ask for major new investments.
However, our state was in a unique fiscal position due to two reasons. One, state revenue forecasts continued to trend positive. Two, our state had $1.3 billion in unspent federal relief dollars heading into the session. Thus, there was the opportunity to seek larger than normal investments in a supplemental year. As expected, budget writers cautioned that the state should think about how to sustain any new services or program expansions that were due to one-time federal funds.
Regarding early learning generally, in the 2021 legislative session, a historic omnibus early learning bill called the Fair Start for Kids Act was passed. This put into place many needed supports for children and families as well as early learning providers and programs. Fair Start essentially doubled the state budget for early learning. As a result, many items like a variety of grant programs, rate increases, and the expansion of some existing programs were supported by federal one-time funds. These items need to be implemented over the 2021-2023 biennial budget cycle. Thus, much of the preparation for the 2022 legislative session involved contemplation on what would be appropriate requests knowing there was major implementation of robust new investments for early learning underway yet there was an optimistic revenue forecast. At the start of the 2022 legislative session advocates were seeking specific supports for ECEAP and childcare to ensure continued work on Fair Start and to ensure the requests matched what could be successfully implemented in the field. In the end, we saw more significant investments in high-quality childcare and ECEAP.
Here is a list of the key investments in ECEAP from the 2022 legislative session. Thank you to all our CSA members who took action to advocate.
Quality supports. A $1.268 million investment will help cover the costs of curriculum, training supports, and assessment. These items were previously funded by a private grant that concluded. Without this state funding, these costs associated with quality would have been passed onto ECEAP programs that are already struggling to make ends meet.
New slots. A $4.709 million investment will ensure there are 326 new ECEAP slots and 40 flexible slots so that more children can be served, and programs have options to enroll students mid-year.
Slot conversion. A $2.664 million investment will allow 777 three-hour ECEAP slots to convert to six-hour slots. This helps working families who need longer than a three-hour program.
Summer ECEAP. A $5.970 million investment means 2, 212 summer ECEAP slots will be available to support preschoolers getting summer access to ECEAP before the start of kindergarten. 2,011 of these slots are in-person and 201 slots are for family support, wrap around services.
Early learning facilities grants and loans. A $23.137 million investment in a competitive early learning facilities grant and loan program will be available to ECEAP providers. The program aims to help ECEAP and childcare providers increase their classroom space to serve more children.