Monday, January 24, 2011

DEL releases new phase of MERIT, including user profiles

We’re excited today to launch a new phase of the online tool that will help child care providers and other early learning professionals track their State Training and Registry System (STARS) trainings and professional development.

The Managed Education and Registry Information Tool (MERIT) is DEL’s online training database available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to trainers and early learning professionals. Also inside MERIT are available trainings, training and educational completion forms and other tools. This new database will help keep accurate records, as well as build a stronger statewide professional development system. Check it out at

Starting today, child care providers and other professionals can create an online profile to help track their professional development.
They can also: 
  • Search for upcoming training events without logging in.
  • Look up a STARS ID if it has been forgotten or misplaced. Those who had a STARS ID before will continue to have the same ID in MERIT.
  • Apply online for a STARS ID number for those who have never had a STARS ID.
  • View and print full training history, including information from the old STARS database .
  • Update online basic personal information.
  • Begin an application to update education, certification/endorsement information and training profile.
Also starting today, trainers and training organization can complete their attendance lists and class payment histories. Once a participant is listed as attending the training, his or her training history is automatically updated.
Trainers are now recording attendance for trainings taken since the beginning of 2010. They have not been able to enter this information until now. Early learning professionals are encouraged to wait to call or e-mail DEL about missing trainings in their accounts until after June 1, 2011. Trainers need time to enter the information in MERIT.
If you have questions about MERIT, please e-mail or call 1-866-482-4325 and choose option 8. We are excited about this new tool and its potential for our state!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Working Connections Child Care subsidy program changes on February 1

Beginning February 1, there will be new eligibility rules for the Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) subsidy program due to budget shortfalls and caseload increases.
At the Department of Early Learning, we know there has been some confusion about what exactly these new rules will mean. Here is a brief explanation of how it will work. For more information, please visit our WCCC web page.
Beginning February 1:
  • For new families applying for WCCC: These families must also receive a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant or be determined eligible for TANF to be eligible for WCCC. Once approved for WCCC, families may remain on the program—so long as they continue to meet all eligibility requirements—until they go above 175 percent federal poverty guidelines (FPG).
  • Families currently receiving WCCC: These families may remain on the program—so long as they continue to meet all eligibility requirements—until their income is more than 175 percent federal poverty guidelines (FPG). Click here to see the eligibility chart.
  • If your family currently pays monthly copayment is $50 or more, $10 will be added to your share of the cost of child care.
Families currently receiving WCCC must reapply before their current eligibility period ends, or they will need to meet the new eligibility requirement.
So what does “be determined eligible for TANF” mean?
Those eligible for TANF must be Washington State residents who are responsible for the care of children or who are pregnant. Families must meet:
  • Income and resource requirements
  • Citizenship or alien status requirements
Income and resource requirements:
TANF benefits are based on family size and income. When a household member starts working, half of the earnings are counted against the grant. If a member of the household starts receiving unemployment or another type of unearned income, the entire amount is counted against the grant.
To be eligible for TANF, families must have resources of $1,000 or less. Resources are things like:
  • Checking and savings accounts
  • Stocks, bonds, or mutual funds
  • Vehicle equity over $5,000
Find out more about TANF eligibility and how to apply, on the Department of Social and Health Services TANF section.

WaKIDS, child care licensing reports submitted to legislature

DEL submitted reports to the state legislature on two important bodies of work: child care licensing improvements and our kindergarten readiness pilot. Both reports were due on Jan. 15, 2011.

Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS)
WaKIDS is a kindergarten transition process that allows families, kindergarten teachers and early learning professionals to gather and share information about incoming kindergarteners. WaKIDS is being piloted throughout the 2010-2011 school year in 115 classrooms around the state, with approximately 2,600 kindergarteners. Click to see the report from DEL and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction about how the pilot was designed, implemented and recommendations for next steps.
WaKIDS information is gathered through:
  • A teacher-family meeting where they discuss items such as the language spoken in the home, family traditions, and a child’s likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses
  • An assessment of the child in four domains:
    • Social and emotional development
    • Cognition and general knowledge
    • Language, communication and literacy
    • Physical well-being, health and motor development
  • Meetings between early learning professionals and teachers to share information about children.
This information helps kindergarten teachers plan lessons and support each student in the best possible way. Data from three piloted assessment tools was collected and analyzed by the University of Washington, where staff are leading the research, data analysis, technical support for teachers and assessment materials. Click here to see the preliminary data report submitted by UW.
The preliminary results suggest that more than a third of those children participating in WaKIDS enter kindergarten below expected skill levels. In the area of language, communication, and literacy, nearly half of the children enter with skills below the expected grade level. While only preliminary, this important data that will help teachers, families, early learning professionals and policymakers understand how to move forward and help kids succeed in school.
For more information about WaKIDS, visit
Child Care Licensing Report
The 2010 supplemental budget directed DEL to develop a plan for how the agency can improve our child care licensing practices. These improvements should be focused on how DEL can increase efficiency, enhance relationships with providers and improve the quality of child care in Washington.
In its report, DEL’s recommendations include allowing non-expiring licenses, increased investment in child care licensing technology and moving toward weighted standards. Click to read the full report.

The plan collected feedback of parents, child care providers, DEL licensing staff, and early learning advocates through a regular work group and a series of online surveys for licensed child care providers at Because of necessary investments, it is estimated the full plan would take 10 years to implement.
In many ways, child care licensing already has a strong foundation in Washington. Data from the 2008 Market Rate Survey (which DEL conducts every two years as the state’s lead agency for the federal CCDF) show that the majority of licensed child care providers are satisfied with their licensors, and feel comfortable working with their licensors to ensure they offer safe, healthy care. The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies ranks Washington’s child care licensing rules and oversight as among the top 10 in the nation, for both centers and family home child care (third in the nation for family homes and ninth for centers).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Seeds to Success gives first peek at quality child care ratings

Washington now has our first baseline ratings for Seeds to Success, the voluntary quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) our state is developing for licensed child care. The University of Washington, in partnership with the Department of Early Learning and Thrive by Five Washington, released the preliminary ratings in a progress report about field test’s second year.
Rated during the summer and fall, the 93 family home and child care sites participating in the two-year field test of Seeds to Success earned an average 1.04 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 as the top score. According to the report, there are many good things happening in licensed child care, but there is more work to do in providing children with high quality learning environments.
All programs were rated on four areas:
  • curriculum and learning environment
  • professional development and training
  • family and community partnerships
  • leadership and management practices
The UW’s Childcare Quality and Early Learning Center evaluated each of those areas using a combination of observation and two established measures of classroom quality: the Environmental Rating Scales (ERS), which measures a program’s environment, and the Classroom Assessment Scoring Scale (CLASS), which measures provider-child interactions. According to the UW report, both CLASS and ERS scores averaged in the mid range for quality.
While initial ratings are low, this baseline provides DEL and its partners with a wealth of new information and opportunities. This is the first time the entire system of quality standards has been tested. The ratings will be compared with ratings collected this spring to determine to what degree coaching, funding for professional development and other resources help child care providers improve the quality of care they offer families.
“The child care providers who are participating in this field test already are showing they care deeply about quality learning opportunities for our youngest children,” DEL Director Bette Hyde said. “These ratings help us get the bigger picture of the Seeds to Success system and what it can do in our state.”
Seeds to Success is designed to support licensed child care providers in improving the quality of child care they offer children and families. When fully operational, unbiased QRIS ratings allow parents to compare quality and make choices that are best for their families.
The five communities participating in the field test are the two Thrive demonstration communities of East Yakima, White Center and Spokane, Clark and Kitsap counties.
The Seeds to Success field test ends on June 30, 2011. DEL will then share trend data and overall averages – not individual facility ratings – as the standards and model are expected to change based on the results of the field test. This data will be used to inform our work expanding QRIS statewide.
For more information, visit

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Governor announces proposal for new Department of Education

Today, Governor Gregoire laid out her vision for building a consolidated, streamlined education system focused on preparing students to compete in the global economy. Washington has come a long way in making children a priority in our state. Our governor wants to take the next step by focusing all education issues on student achievement by providing a seamless, state-level education system from early learning through career. You can watch her press conference on

Her proposal is bold, and it is sure to cause a lot of conversation this legislative session! She proposes creating one Department of Education with a Governor-appointed Secretary of Education. The Department of Education would include divisions dedicated to early learning, K-12, community and technical colleges, and universities. You can see the details of Governor Gregoire’s proposal by clicking here. The early years division would focus on “whole child” development, quality child care and preschool options, and parent education and information. This proposal will be brought to the Legislature for consideration during the session that begins next Monday, Jan. 10.

DEL staff will be closely watching this proposal and the discussion in the Legislature. Stay tuned!