Monday, March 17, 2014

Early learning highlights from 2014 legislative session

The 2014 Legislature adjourned its 60-day legislative session on time on March 13. Here are the early learning highlights:

Supplemental budget
  • 4 percent base subsidy rate increases for both family home and center child care providers in both 2014 and 2015.
  • Funding to pilot tiered reimbursement for Early Achievers participants (higher subsidy rates for child care programs that demonstrate higher quality levels).
  • Funding to maintain DEL’s Medicaid Treatment Child Care program while the state works to seek additional long-term revenue sources for it. 
  • An additional $50,000 for Reach Out and Read, a key DEL partner in improving early literacy.
  • Authorization to use unspent Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding to support certain vulnerable families with home visiting services through the Home Visiting Services Account.
  • Funding to the Department of Health to work with DEL and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to implement Gov. Jay Inslee’s Healthiest Next Generation Initiative.
  • Direction to DEL to provide up to 20 percent of Working Connections Child Care slots as contracts rather than vouchers. Language allows DEL to “braid” Working Connections and ECEAP funding to support a full-day experience for participating children. DEL is required to report on the number of children served through these contracted slots.
  • Direction to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and DEL to create a plan to triage child care subsidy overpayment cases to prioritize cases with large overpayments and likelihood of fraudulent activity.
Policy bills
Here is the final status of some key early learning policy bills from 2014:

House Bill 2191, Concerning compliance with inspections of child care facilities
Gov. Inslee signed this bill into law on March 12. HB 2191 requires DEL to consult with city or county enforcement officials prior to requiring alterations of licensed spaces within a family child care home due to inconsistencies in established building codes. It also specifies that unless there is imminent danger, DEL may not modify, suspend or revoke a license while waiting for the consultation or written verification from the county or city. It goes into effect on June 12. 

House Bill 2519, Concerning early education for children involved in the child welfare system
Awaiting Gov. Inslee’s signature. HB 2519 seeks to extend quality early learning opportunities to children in the child welfare system by directing Family Assessment Response (FAR) workers to determine the need for child care, preschool or home visiting services during assessments for child safety and well-being. The bill will allow FAR workers to make child care referrals for non-school age children to licensed child care programs that have attained a level 3, 4 or 5 in our state’s Early Achievers program. FAR rolled out in January 2014 in certain areas of the state and seeks to provide a differential response system for families with accepted reports of child abuse and neglect who have a low to moderate risk of further maltreatment. 

HB 2519 also directs DEL and DSHS to develop recommendations on how to partner to ensure children involved in the child welfare system have access to early learning services and developmentally appropriate child care services. Report is due to Gov. Inslee and appropriate legislative committees by Dec. 31, 2014.

HB 2519 also states that children receiving child protective services or FAR services should receive priority for ECEAP enrollment.

Senate Bill 6093, Allowing valid portable background check clearance cards issued by the Department of Early Learning to be used by certain educational employees and their contractors for purposes of their background check requirements
Awaiting Gov. Inslee’s signature. SB 6093 creates system efficiencies by allowing licensed child care employees working in school district and educational service district settings to only have to secure a DEL background check. Currently, these employees are required to undergo both OSPI and DEL background checks.

House Bill 2377, Improving quality in the early care and education system
The Early Start Act passed the House on Feb. 18, but did not pass the Senate. Two components of the bill are included in the supplemental budget (funding for a tiered reimbursement pilot and a direction to contract out up to 20 percent of Working Connections Child Care slots).

Among other things, HB 2377 would have required child care providers accepting state subsidies to join Early Achievers. The bill generated a great deal of dialogue about the importance of both access and quality, and raised awareness of Early Achievers as our state’s quality framework.  We can expect these issues to arise in subsequent legislative sessions.

House Bill 2165, Concerning Department of Early Learning fatality reviews

This bill passed the House, but did not pass the Senate. It would have required DEL to convene a child fatality review committee if a child fatality occurred in a licensed child care program or ECEAP program.

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