Thursday, January 26, 2012

Questions and answers about the proposed Washington Preschool Program

The Department of Early Learning (DEL) has received several questions from child care providers and others about a bill that is being considered in the Legislature. This is House Bill 2448, also called the High-Quality Early Learning Act of 2012, and moves forward the recommendations of a legislatively required work group about how to phase in a high-quality, voluntary preschool program to help children get ready for success in school and life.

Following are some answers to some of the questions we at DEL have heard most frequently:

What does House Bill 2448 do?
HB 2448 would establish a statewide, voluntary preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds in Washington. The bill calls this the “Washington Preschool Program.” The new program includes 450 hours of preschool a year, as well as health and family support services. The bill also would focus on planning voluntary programs for birth-to-3-year-olds at the same time.

The Washington Preschool Program would build on the standards of our current state-funded preschool program (the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, or ECEAP).

The Washington Preschool Program would be what is called a “mixed-delivery system.” This means that many different groups could deliver these preschool services. That could include licensed family home providers and child care centers; school districts; educational service districts; current Early Learning and Education Assistance Program (ECEAP) and Head Start providers; and faith-based organizations.

You can read the most current version of House Bill 2448, along with analysis prepared by House of Representatives committee staff, online.

What does this mean for licensed child care providers? Would they have to participate?
This preschool program would be voluntary for families. Not all families will choose to enroll their child, for any number of reasons. There is no requirement for families to be a part of the Washington Preschool Program.

Licensed child care providers could choose to apply to be a Washington Preschool Program provider, and would be encouraged to do so. Participation is not required. Providers who were selected by competitive process to be part of Washington Preschool Program would be funded per-slot to deliver high-quality preschool programming that meets the requirements of this bill, for a minimum of 450 hours per year. Child care providers may choose to have Washington Preschool hours when all requirements of this bill are in place, and child care hours when they meet child care licensing requirements.

Licensed child care providers who did not wish to apply to be a Washington Preschool Program provider would be able to continue offering licensed child care, following the child care licensing WAC. The requirements of the Washington Preschool Program do not apply to all child care or to preschools that are not part of the Washington Preschool Program.

Licensed child care providers could choose to deliver both Washington Preschool Program services (which would be part-day) and subsidized child care to result in a high-quality full-day program.

What does this mean for private preschool providers? Would they have to participate?
Currently, private preschool providers offering educational curriculum and operating for fewer than four hours per day are exempt from child care licensing requirements. These preschools would not have to participate in the Washington Preschool Program.

What would the educational requirements for lead teachers be under the Washington Preschool Program?
Research is clear that a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field supports high-quality early learning programs. Part of HB 2448 is a requirement that DEL and others make recommendations to the Legislature about a timeline to phase in a bachelor’s degree requirement for lead teachers. The bill also will likely include a requirement for DEL and others to review current capacity at higher education institutions, affordability in attaining a degree, barriers for child care providers, and any “equivalencies” that would allow child care providers to demonstrate quality without having a bachelor’s degree.
How would the Washington Preschool Program impact the Working Connections Child Care and Seasonal Child Care subsidy programs?
The Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) and Seasonal Child Care (SCC) subsidy programs would continue operating the way they currently do. Funding for WCCC and SCC would not be diverted to fund the Washington Preschool Program.

I have heard the Washington Preschool Program could not include religious instruction. Is that true?
It is true that any publically funded education program may not include religious instruction during the time of day funded for the preschool program. Faith-based organizations would be encouraged to apply for Washington Preschool Program with the understanding that they would not offer religious instruction during the portion of the day funded with public dollars.

Why would any entity consider being part of Washington Preschool Program?
Those who participate in Washington Preschool Program would be paid per-slot to offer high-quality preschool services. In addition, participants would have access to professional development and materials to support them in their work.

Would this program be for families with low incomes only?
The Washington Preschool Program as proposed in House Bill 2448 would offer access to this program to all families upon full implementation in school year 2024-25. Families with incomes above 250 percent of the federal poverty level would pay a co-pay set by DEL.

How were these recommendations for this program created?
This has been a gradual and thoughtful process:
  • A bill passed in 2010 (House Bill 2731) created a voluntary preschool program for educationally at-risk children, to be phased in as an entitlement program by the 2018-2019 school year. An entitlement means a guarantee of access to specific benefits either by law or by constitution.
  • Another bill passed in 2010 (Senate Bill 6759) set up a work group to look at whether this preschool program should be part of basic education or an entitlement, and get more specific about what the preschool program should look like. You can find the recommendations from the SB 6759 work group online by clicking here. At that same place, you can find more information about the work group membership and process.
  • The SB 6759 work group delivered its recommendations to two groups in November 2011: The Quality Education Council (QEC) and the Early Learning Advisory Council (ELAC).
  • ELAC considered the recommendations during its Dec. 12, 2011, regular meeting. They supported the work group recommendations, with two additions:
    • Adding a birth-to-3 technical workgroup to use the state Birth to 3 Plan as the basis for working to enhance services for infants and toddlers.
    • Phasing in the SB 6759 work group recommendations about lead teacher education requirements, rather than requiring a bachelor’s degree at the creation of the program.
  • The QEC at its Dec. 19, 2011, regular meeting, voted to recommend the work group recommendations.
  • The bill was introduced for consideration during the 2012 legislative session and is now being considered by the Legislature.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

DEL accepting public comment on several rules

It’s a new year, which means it is time for new rules related to many areas that affect DEL, parents, child care providers and even unlicensed providers. The rules that govern how state agencies do business are called WACs (pronounced “wax”), which stands for Washington Administrative Code.

Part of the rule-making process is accepting public comments on the proposed changes. Right now, DEL is accepting public comment on several rules. People can provide comment online, in person (in some cases), by email or by postal mail. Each topic has a link to the webpage that contains more information, including how to provide input.

This list is organized by the date in which the public comment period closes.

January 31

  • Child Care Center Rules on Lice and Nits: DEL agreed to review the rule following a public petition asking DEL to remove the section of the rule that requires licensed child care centers to exclude children or staff who have lice or nits. This rule only applies to child care centers and school-age programs.
February 13
  • Public disclosure of DEL records, how the public may request records, indexes to certain public information and DEL organization rules required by law. 
  • Child care centers and school-age centers on new nonexpiring licenses: A nonexpiring license is available to current providers with a full license, and to new providers who have successfully completed the initial license period. The proposed rules describe the annual requirements for a provider to maintain a nonexpiring license.
  • Raising annual license fees for child care centers and school-age centers: DEL raised fees for family home child care providers in new WAC chapter 170-296A. The Legislature directed DEL to increase license fees for all licensed providers to deal with projected 2011-2013 state budget deficits. License fees are deposited to the state general fund and are not kept by DEL. The new fee amounts have been in effect by emergency rules filed in June and October 2011.
  • Suspected unlicensed child care and higher civil penalties (fines) that may be levied for violating child care licensing rules: The rule changes are as a result of 2011 Senate Bill 5504, and have been in effect by emergency rules filed in July and December 2011.
  • Working Connections and Seasonal Child Care programs in Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 170-290, and related changes to licensing rules for child care centers, school-age programs and family home child care. The rules are being revised to meet state and federal audit recommendations, reduce potential fraud, waste or abuse, comply with portions of 2011 Senate Bill 5921, and clarify other requirements.
March 31

  • Child care center rules: This will be the first substantial update of child care center rules since 2003. DEL is interested in suggestions that are child-centered and evidence- or research-based.
You can find the complete list of rules DEL will tackle the first half of this year on our semi-annual rule-making agenda, which we update every January and July.

Anyone who is interested in receiving information about current rules, draft rules and notices of rule changes, can sign up:

Rules Coordinator
Washington State Department of Early Learning
P.O. Box 40970
Olympia, WA 98504-0970

Thursday, January 19, 2012

DEL office closures January 19

Many Department of Early Learning offices are closed today, January 19 due to icy conditions:
  • Headquarters in Lacey
  • Aberdeen
  • Bellevue
  • Bellingham
  • Bremerton
  • Everett
  • Kent
  • Mount Vernon
  • Port Angeles
  • Seattle
  • Tacoma
  • Tumwater
We will update this blog with new information as it becomes available.

If you need to reach a licensor or headquarters staff, please send them an email. See DEL contacts.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

DEL office closures January 18

The following Department of Early Learning offices are closed Wednesday, January 18 due to inclement weather:
  • Headquarters in Lacey
  • Field offices are open but many DEL employees are telecommuting. The best way to reach a licensor today is by email.
We will keep this post updated with any changes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Legislature convenes for 2012 session--how to stay updated on early learning

The 2012 regular legislative session began on Monday, Jan. 9, and will last 60 days. Although this is a supplemental budget year (not the "long" 105-day session during which the biennial budget is written), legislators have plenty to do during these 60 days.

This week, DEL will present to various legislative committees on the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant, child care subsidies, the upcoming transfer of the Council for Children & Families to DEL, and portable background checks for child care employees.
 How you can stay informed on early learning issues throughout session: