Washington State 2023 Legislative Wrap-up
Council for a Strong America Washington spent the 2023 legislative session advocating for early childhood investments
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. In addition to advocating for increased access to ECEAP, ReadyNation WA has been supportive of increasing access to child care for today’s working parents.
Legislative session actions – ReadyNation and Mission: Readiness members
Many of our Council for a Strong America members took action to voice support for our priorities. Special thank you to Michael Cade who helped host an in-person luncheon on February 1st and attended legislator meetings. I also want to acknowledge all our ReadyNation members who submitted written testimony: Dr. Brian Benzel, Michael Cade, Lori Drummond, Mike Edwards, David Graybill, Dave Hargreaves, Sue Krienen, and Byron Shutz.
Special thank you to Rear Admiral (Ret.) Eleanor Valentin, U.S. Navy, who joined us for legislator meetings in January. I also want to acknowledge all our Mission: Readiness members who submitted written testimony: Major General (Ret.) David de la Vergne, U.S. Army, Major General (Ret.) Jon Root, U.S. Army, Rear Admiral (Ret.) Jeffrey Ruth, U.S. Navy, and Rear Admiral (Ret.) Valentin, U.S. Navy.
ReadyNation members and staff submitted a total of 41 testimonies on the various operating and capital budget proposals and conducted hundreds of meetings with legislators and staff from the legislative and executive branches and state agencies. Mission: Readiness members and staff submitted a total of 21 testimonies and conducted several legislator meetings. We have deep gratitude for our members!
Legislative session – overall and early learning
Back to in-person after two years virtual. Washington, like many states, had its first virtual session in 2021. The Legislature was almost fully virtual in 2022. This year, it was the first time myself and the majority of my colleagues were back in Olympia and working on the capital campus. The legislative hybrid environment was new for everyone. A benefit is that people from all over the state can testify and join in meetings, which creates more robust civic engagement and input on policy development.
The legislature adjourned on time but work remained. In the odd-numbered years the Legislature creates two-year, or biennial, budgets (operating, capital, and transportation). While the Legislature met their constitutional charge of passing final budgets, they did not agree on a resolution to what is referred to as the “Blake” decision, referencing the 2021 State Supreme Court decision that felony drug possession is unconstitutional, before the scheduled April 23rd adjournment date. In 2021, the Legislature agreed on a temporary fix with commitment to find a permanent solution by July 1, 2023. The Legislature debated whether simple drug possession should be a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor but landed on a final solution with the passage of SB 5536 during a swift special session on May 16th.
A different fiscal environment. We headed into session knowing the budget writers were very conscientious about the conclusion of an unique abundance of federal relief dollars, mitigating any potential bow waves from those federal relief investments in the past two years, addressing an increased maintenance level of funding due to inflation, and managing expectations on any new items. The various federal COVID relief packages helped stabilize the child care infrastructure during a time of crisis and set-up many supports in our state, including many in early learning. For some of those early learning items that were funded with federal relief dollars in the short-term, a new revenue source (capital gains) was established as the permanent funding source. Capital gains is a seven percent collection on the profit from the sale or exchange of non-inventory assets such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc. that exceed $250,000. In March, the State Supreme Court upheld the tax as constitutional. The tax can be collected which means those early learning investments are more secure. While that had a positive impact on the budget, the revenue forecasts have signaled that inflation continues to have an impact on the economy and a recession may be forthcoming. However, if a recession does come, recent proxies suggest it will not be as severe as what we experienced in 2008.
Final budget strong for early learning. The House and Senate had different approaches to the operating budget in terms of the amount they funded and what they funded with the House proposal being the high water mark. They agreed on a final budget that makes strong investments in early learning as well as children’s mental health items that support children, family, and early learning providers.
Here is a list of the key investments in ECEAP from the 2023 legislative session. Thank you to our ReadyNation WA and Mission: Readiness WA members who took action to advocate!
Rate increases for ECEAP providers. $50.1M for the biennium to provide a rate increase for all three ECEAP models (3-hour, 6-hour, 10-hour) to ensure the rate more closely aligns with the true cost of the more intensive two-generation support the program provides to vulnerable children and families.
ECEAP slot expansion and conversion. $29.6M for the biennium for 1,000 new 6-hour slots (500 per year) and converting 2,000 3-hour slots to 6-hour slots (1,000 per year). This will help working families who need longer hours of care and help make progress towards the state mandate to serve all eligible children and families who would like services by the fall of 2026.
Early Learning Facilities Fund and Minor Renovation Grants. $47.05M for the biennium for competitive grants. This includes $42.05M for expansion projects and $5M for mino reno projects. These funds help create the learning space that programs need to serve children in ECEAP or whose families utilize child care subsidies. Additionally, the capital budget included $17.6M for specific early learning projects across the state.
ECEAP Complex Needs Fund. $5.8M for the biennium for competitive grants that help ECEAP providers and programs care for children impacted by trauma who need more mental health support. Funds can be used for things like additional staff, mental health consultation, supportive and adaptive materials, providing teacher coaching, training, and professional development, and offering unique transportation services.
See our 2023 fact sheets here.
General early learning summary
The 2023-2025 biennial budget reflected that the Legislature continues to prioritize supporting our state’s youngest learners, families, early learning programs, and the early learning workforce so that children can reach their full potential, working parents have access to high-quality care, and the early learning workforce is supported.
Some of the key early learning investments and bills are noted below.
Child care subsidy rate increase. $204.5M for biennium will help raise the per child rate to what is more inline with the private pay market. The Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) program provides subsidies to families to help with the cost of child care. The per child rate was increased to honor a policy passed in 2021 called the Fair Start for Kids Act that specified the WCCC rate should be 85th percentile of the market rate study. Using the 2021 data, versus the 2018 data, means the rate increase will more accurately reflect the true cost of high-quality care. All licensed providers who serve children and families in WCCC must participate in the state’s quality rating and improvement system called Early Achievers.
Increased access to WCCC. Two bills, SB 5225 and HB 1525, expanded access to WCCC for four populations: the early learning workforce, families involved in therapeutic courts, undocumented children, and people participating in a registered apprenticeship program. The fiscal impact for these two bills is $16M for the biennium.
Child Care Complex Needs Fund. Similar to the ECEAP complex needs fund, this fund is for licensed child care programs that need support caring for children with more intensive needs. The legislature invested $15.4M for the biennium in this fund which may be used for things like staffing, therapeutic services, facility improvements to comply with ADA accessibility requirements or behavioral needs, supportive and adaptive materials and equipment, and provider teacher training.
Removing the background check fee for child care provider applicants. SB 5316 permanently removes the background check fee which had been temporarily waived during the COVID-19 pandemic to help address child care provider shortages. The fiscal impact is $3.14M for the biennium.
Increasing child care access while ensuring child care providers are paid a living wage. The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) will develop an implementation plan with the goal of providing living wages to the child care workforce. Ensuring there is a stable and compensated early learning workforce will also increase access to child care for working families. This analysis must be conducted under the assumption that families pay no more than seven percent of their household income for child care. The cost of the analysis is $530K.
Serving our littlest learners who have developmental delays. A one-time, one-year investment of $2.483M is for a rate increase for the Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) program. ESIT provides early intervention services to support children aged 0-3 with developmental delays or disabilities. ESIT services include speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.