Friday, April 21, 2017

Parent Advisory Group (PAG) is Recruiting for Board Members

The Department of Early Learning (DEL) is recruiting for five vacant seats on the Parent Advisory Group (PAG) and is accepting applications from qualified and interested individuals. 
At the Department of Early Learning (DEL), we believe parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. The DEL Parent Advisory Group (PAG) was established in 2007 as a sounding board to bring parent voices into the work of DEL.  It is a place to share ideas, provide advice and guidance, “parent-test” policies and programs, and to shape the future of DEL.  Parental involvement is the key to having policies and programs that support families’ strengths and needs.
We are currently recruiting for 5 members from the following regions:
  • Northwest 
  • Olympic-Kitsap 
  • Southeast 
  • Southwest 
  • Pierce County


Parent Advisory Group membership criteria:
  • A Parent or Guardian of a child or children between the ages of 0-9;
  • Available to attend and participate in three in-person (full day) meetings. Currently meetings are scheduled for:                  
July 14, 2017
October 4, 2017
April 2018

  • Able to participate in ten conference calls per year with the group. Currently calls are held the second Tuesday of every month from 8:00 - 9:00 p.m. 
  • Willing to connect and coordinate with other families in your local community and community groups that you are involved with. 

Supports for PAG Members

Parent Advisory Group members are eligible for mileage reimbursements to help support participation.  Mileage will be reimbursed at current state travel reimbursement rates and in accordance with the State of Washington Office of Financial Management Travel Regulations. Current rates for travel can be accessed at: At this time, on-site child care is not available during meetings. We ask that participants recruit and/or secure child care for each in-person meeting.  Please contact us at with any concerns or questions about securing child care.


Interested individuals who can commit to the membership requirements can fill out the application available on the Parent Advisory Group website by June 9, 2017.  Translation and interpretation is available upon request. 
If you are interested, please submit your application by June 9, 2017 via one of the following methods: 
Mail:       DEL Parent Advisory GroupPO Box 40970 | Olympia, WA  98504-0970
Drop-off: DEL | Attn:Parent Advisory Group | 1110 Jefferson St. SE | Olympia, WA 98501
Please contact with any questions.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Why Subsidy Rate Increases Matter to Everyone--Even if you aren’t a family on subsidy

Talking about base rate increases for child care providers who accept children on subsidy can seem a little wonky. You may think it’s important only to those families and providers it touches directly. But this is one of the key issues facing our child care system in Washington. The Department of Early Learning believes that we need rate increases for Family Homes and Child Care Centers across the state if we want the system to survive. 
A single parent with two children has to be making $40,320 a year or less in order to qualify for our subsidy program. A family of four is limited to $48,600 a year. If you’re making even a dollar more than that, you’re paying the full price of child care costs.

Everyone knows that the cost of child care has risen steadily in recent years. We know too that the average family’s wages have not kept pace with this rising cost. How does the State help? We provide subsidies to low-income families so that they can access high-quality child care in the communities where they live. These subsidies pay the owners and employees of Family Home and Child Care Centers to deliver early learning services.  

 So are the providers raking in money hand-over-fist when they accept subsidy payments? The simple answer is no. Our federal funding partners from the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) want our subsidy rates to be at in the 75th percentile of market-rate child care [1], and our state is nowhere close to that. That’s why our Governor put into his budget proposal this year a 2% base rate increase for Family Homes, and a tiered reimbursement increase for Child Care Centers. That was to get us closer to that 75th percentile before accounting for the January minimum wage increase.  

We know that minimum wage increases enacted in I-1433 will benefit child care workers. Hopefully it will have a positive influence on childcare quality given the association between employee compensation and childcare quality. However (and that’s a big however) there are some very real problems this wage increase creates for the child care system.  

In order to understand the effects of I-433 on the child care system, we conducted a Minimum Wage Impact Survey Analysis. This report suggests that costs for providers are going up 1% for Family Homes and 3.5% for Child Care Centers, in addition to cost increases as a result of inflation. 
The biggest element of cost for child care providers is labor (about 60%, significantly higher than most other business types). If we drive down their revenue relative to their costs because of wage increases they have only a few options: 
  • Pass the increased costs onto private-pay families. This hurts the middle class and those struggling to make it into the middle class (remember the part above about sky-rocketing child care costs?) 
  • Stop serving children on subsidy. This will bankrupt small businesses who rely on subsidy families for their business model and will force more families into dangerous, unlicensed care scenarios. 
  • Hire less educated, lower quality staff. This will reduce educational outcomes. 
These are not options that child care providers like, and they are not ones we want to see either. We want to get more children into high-quality early learning programs so that we can get them ready for kindergarten, regardless of race or family income. We want to ensure that every parent or guardian who waives goodbye to their child at the beginning of the day can feel confident about his or her safety.
To keep the system whole, to not unduly burden middle class families, and to continue our quest for quality, we need to be thinking about subsidy base rates. 

[1] Meaning subsidy families have access to at least three-quarters of all available child care.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

ECEAP: Dosage Matters

Our goal as an agency is to get 90% of Washington’s children to be “ready for kindergarten,” and to have race and family income not be predictors of readiness.

About 20% of Washington’s children are in families at or below 110% of the federal poverty level (FPL,) or about $24,000 for a family of four.  These young people face many challenges in life and are a key part of any rational economic strategy for the state, as well as being part of the paramount duty enshrined in Washington’s constitution. The large gap seen in our kindergarten entry assessment between kids below 110% and their more advantaged peers persists through their entire experience in the K-12 system, and the rest of their lives. 

We’re looking at a number of ways to help these kids get ready for kindergarten. The most effective in national data and in Washington is high-quality preschool. Without that investment, we estimate that about 28% of this group will arrive in kindergarten meeting our benchmark for kindergarten readiness. 28% isn’t 90%. 

Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Say – ice cream. When it comes to high-quality preschool experiences – not so much. Dosage matters. There are three major components of “dosage,” the amount of preschool a kid gets.  Length of day, number of years, and length of year. 

ECEAP today is mostly a half-day program – about 3 hours. Most national research suggests that a full-day program is much more successful in getting kids ready for kindergarten.[1] There are other reasons full-day makes a lot of sense, which I’ll cover later. 

We also have strong data supporting high quality preschool for both three and four year olds.
  • After one year of ECEAP, about 55% are ready when we measure in June. When we measure in the fall the number falls to about 35%. We attribute this falloff to both summer learning loss, a problem well explored in the literature[2]and some testing differences between ECEAP and kindergarten.
  • A small fraction of kids start when they are three, getting two years of ECEAP. 69% of those kids are ready for kindergarten. 69% is a lot closer to 90% than 55% is.
Only a very small fraction of kids in ECEAP have summer programming, and it’s too new for us to have enough data to evaluate the effect. We’re super-interested in figuring out how to prevent the large drop of scores over the summer, and this year’s budget includes funds for a reasonable experiment to measure the effect of providing the service all summer. This would inform future investment decisions.

One of my particular concerns about ECEAP is that we’re not getting to the kids at the highest risk. Over 60% of the families below 110% of the federal poverty level (FPL) are headed by single parents, but only 42% of ECEAP families are. There are lots of potential reasons for this, but the most likely is that a half-day program is crazy making for single parents. What are you going to do in the middle of the day – tell your boss you need time off to switch your kid from one place to the other?
Ross Hunter at an ECEAP site.

We don’t have another intervention that works this well at getting kids ready for kindergarten, and if we’re serious about ensuring that kids from low income families have the same chance to succeed in school as their friends that are born closer to opportunity then we have to design the preschool experience so that it actually works for Washington families.

Governor Inslee’s ECEAP budget proposal in front of the Legislature right now:
  • Continues to expand ECEAP, but with almost all full and extended-day slots. Washington law says that all kids below 110% FPL will be entitled to a slot in the fall of 2020, and Governor Inslee’s budget calls for a significant expansion in the next two years so that we’re not scrambling to try to do it all at once in the next budget cycle.
  • Funds a substantive experiment in summer programming so we can determine which particular model works best to reach our kindergarten readiness goals.
  • Continues eligibility for both three and four year old children, because without this we are unlikely to make our 90% goal and will be living with an opportunity gap for the next generation of kids, something we think is morally repugnant.
In one of my favorite turns of phrase this year, it’s pretty clear from national data that kids really need to spend more time each day in the somatosensory bath[3] of the high-quality preschool and intervention services that ECEAP provides. Research is emerging that indicates more time in high quality preschool each day equals better results for the kids who need it most.[4]
So in short, dosage matters and more is better for ECEAP. Some questions we’re still exploring in order to best steward the public funds in our trust while getting the best outcomes for kids:
  • What is the best combination of length of day, number of years, and type of summer programming to get the most children ready for kindergarten?
  • Which children benefit the most from the three elements above?
  • ECEAP is more than just classroom time. The variety of family supports and health coordination the program provides are a critical part of its success. Not all families need every type of support available. What types and levels of services each family needs, and how to determine that efficiently, is a question we took up in our Family Support Pilot and will continue to examine.
  • What other factors are affecting kindergarten readiness: availability of dual-language instruction, family involvement in various parts of the child welfare system, seamless transitions from effective early intervention programs like Early Head Start, ESIT, and home visiting to high quality preschool programs like ECEAP?

We don’t have a perfect formula for dosage yet, but we have the tools to devise a good one. Most importantly, we need to support and expand ECEAP in a thoughtful and effective manner. I’ll be writing more about how DEL plans to implement ECEAP expansion in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for that post.


Ross Hunter
Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning 

[1] (Kenneth B. Robin, 2006)
[2] Wikipedia “Summer learning loss”
[3] Somatosensory “of or relating to sensations that involve parts of the body not associated with the primary sense organs.” James Heckman writes about the importance of the somatosensory bath of early childhood here:

[4] RAND 2016, “Informing Investments in Preschool Quality and Access in Cincinnati”,

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

DEL Announces New Substitute Pool for Child Care

The Substitute Pool is designed to support family child care and child care center providers in accessing substitutes to work towards professional development goals to reach Early Achievers Level 3 or higher.

The Substitute Pool will:
Promote progress within Early Achievers by encouraging family child care and child care center providers to participate in professional development opportunities. This includes:
  • Substitute coverage to allow providers to participate in professional development opportunities.
  • Time to work towards achieving a Level 3 or higher. Allowable activities include:
    • Early Achievers Level 2 training series.
    • Completing self-assessments, action plans, or filing supporting documents.
    • Early Achievers Remedial Activities.
    • Early Achievers Technical Assistance and Coaching.
    • Environmental Rating Scale (ERS) preparation.
    • Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) preparation.
    • Education/Professional Development degrees or certificate programs.
Facilities that qualify to use the Substitute Pool:
  • Have served at least one child on subsidy within the last 12 months. 
  • Are enrolled in Early Achievers and working towards a Level 3 rating.
  • In good licensing status: this means having a non-expired license that is not suspended, revoked, or on probationary status.
Individuals that qualify to be a substitute in the Substitute Pool:
  • Are 18 years old or older.
  • Are registered in MERIT (visit to get started).
  • Meet the current minimum education standard for a licensed facility lead teacher.
  • Have evidence of the following in their MERIT record:
    • Initial Training Requirement (Child Care Basics)
    • DEL Portable Background Check clearance 
    • Child Abuse and Neglect training
    • Pediatric First Aid and CPR certification
    • Blood Borne Pathogens training
    • Tuberculosis test results
    • Safe Sleep training
    • Food Handlers permit
    • Mandated Reporter Training 
Once qualifications are verified in MERIT or there is a plan in place to complete them, substitutes must attend an in-person orientation with The Imagine Institute.

The Imagine Institute, a non-profit organization, will be administering the Substitute Pool. In addition to Substitute Pool administration, The Imagine Institute also offers trainings for both Family Child Care and Family, Friend, and Neighbor providers.

For more information about the Substitute Pool, or If you are interested in hiring a substitute or becoming a substitute, contact The Imagine Institute:

Phone: 206.492.5244

Friday, March 10, 2017

DEL Seeks Applicants for Early Achievers Review Committee

The Department of Early Learning (DEL) is looking for interested individuals who reflect the diversity of our state and have different perspectives of our early learning system to help us improve Early Achievers. We have membership openings on the Early Achievers Review Subcommittee (EARS) of Washington’s Early Learning Advisory Council (ELAC) and want you to participate. This is an opportunity to provide feedback and input on issues that impact all Early Achievers participants and the families they serve! 

DEL values the unique insights and perspectives of families and providers and is currently accepting applications from individuals representing the following groups:

  • Family home child care providers from Central and Northeast Washington. 
  • Child care center representatives from across the state, particularly those accepting state funding through Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) subsidies or Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). 
  • Parents of children participating in early learning programs, including those receiving WCCC subsidies or ECEAP services. 
  • Head Start, Early Head Start, Migrant/Seasonal Head Start or Tribal Head Start Program representatives.

EARS advises DEL on strategies to improve the quality of early learning programs participating in Early Achievers. The subcommittee has made a commitment to racial equity and considers the cultural and linguistic needs of families and providers in its analysis and recommendations. Some of the issues the subcommittee will address in the coming year include:

  • Developing and improving supports for participating providers.
  • Identifying and resolving participation barriers for low-income and culturally diverse providers.
  • Supporting subsidy providers and ensuring continued access to care for families receiving state child care subsidies.

The subcommittee also reviews and provides feedback on all major Early Achievers policy changes. DEL staff also partner with the subcommittee to develop the Early Start Act annual progress report to the Washington State Legislature. 

EARS meets six times per year; generally from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. These meetings focus on the continuous quality improvement of Early Achievers. They typically include presentations by content experts, group discussion and opportunities to provide feedback and input on implementation of new policies and strategies. Lunch is provided to members attending daylong meetings and non-governmental members may be reimbursed for their travel expenses, according to the Washington State Office of Financial Management travel regulations

The open membership seats are volunteer positions. Members serve a minimum of a one year (two years is preferred) with terms expiring on June 30th. Members are welcome to remain a part of the committee beyond their term for as long as they are actively engaged. Members are expected to attend the majority of meetings and be prepared to actively participate. Subcommittee members may also have the opportunity to participate in workgroups focused on specific topics or strategies to improve Early Achievers. Participants who volunteer for topic specific work groups should expect to meet outside of the regular subcommittee meeting dates. 

Interested individuals can apply for the open seats by emailing by March 31, 2017. Please include what seat you are interested in filling as well as answering the following: 

  • Why would you like to serve as a representative on EARS? 
  • How did you hear about EARS and/or who referred you? 
  • How do you see yourself contributing to EARS commitment to racial equity and cultural sensitivity? 
  • What impact do you hope to see EARS have on early learning in Washington, and how do you want to contribute to that effort? 

Please contact with any questions. 

Thank you for your interest in contributing to our state’s progress toward building an early learning system that meets the needs of all Washington children and families!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Policy Revision: Books & Early Achievers

The Washington State Department of Early Learning (DEL) announces revisions to the data collection protocol for the Environment Rating Scale (ERS), a tool used in the Early Achievers ratings process. The ERS originated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Beginning March 16, 2017, DEL will exclude the item related to Books and Pictures in each ERS tool used in the Early Achievers onsite evaluation.
“We believe that it is the role of parents, in partnership with their early learning providers, to decide which books in the early learning environment best meets the needs of their children,” said DEL Director, Ross Hunter.
Hunter recently updated his personal blog about the topic, you can find it here: Censorship for Preschoolers. Access to a wide variety of reading materials that reflect the experiences and cultures of children and their families outweighs any benefits that may stem from the use of these indicators in the rating process.

Access to books is a crucial role in early learning and development. To help families and early learning professionals provide a rich assortment of books, DEL now partners with libraries across the state. 

How does this new policy work?
Early Achievers data collectors will mark the item as “not applicable” and they will not collect any data on this item related to Early Achievers.

What does this mean for Early Achievers participants?
Early Achievers participants will no longer receive a score on Books and Pictures. This change in practice will not affect overall ERS scores for participants. 

“Our goal is to provide expert tips on selecting books for an early learning environment as well as additional resources and events for children, families and early learning providers. Together, we work to ensure that every child in Washington has the opportunity to develop a love of language, reading and learning,” said Hunter.
For more information about Early Achievers, visit

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

DEL Proposes New Rules: Safe Sleep, Environment and More!

DEL Rules Update | February 2017

DEL Files Proposed Rules

In January 2017, DEL circulated working drafts of safe sleep and environmental hazard rules to licensed child care providers who would be affected by the rules.  We received valuable feedback and made revisions to the draft rules.  Thank you to all who commented on the drafts!
Proposed rules have been filed with the Code Reviser and DEL is accepting comment on the proposals through March 23, 2017.  The proposed rule subjects are:
  1. Safe Sleep: Updating rule to current health and safety standards that child care centers and family home child care providers must follow to protect sleeping infants and toddlers who are in their care.  Read the proposal
  2. Lead and Other Environmental Hazards: To comply with Governor Inslee's directive to reduce children's exposure to lead and other environmental hazards, DEL proposes environmental safety requirements for child care centers and family home child care providers, including testing drinking water to detect hazardous levels of lead and copper, evaluating facilities for paint and soil hazards, and ensuring outdoor gardens are safe for children who play in them.  Read the proposal and small business economic impact statement.
  3. Child Care Subsidy Wait List:  Forecasts for Washington State's Working Connections and Seasonal Child Care subsidy programs indicate that consumer needs will likely exceed available funding in the next two years.  Wait lists will be created if that happens and the proposed rules clarify how DEL will administer the lists, including prioritization, when benefits start for a consumer who is taken off the list, withdrawal from and reinstatement to the list, and provider payment terms.  Read the proposal.
A 10:00 AM hearing is scheduled on March 23, 2017 to receive public comment on the proposals.  Hearing location:
Cascade Conference Room 130
1110 Jefferson Street [DEL State Office], Olympia, Washington

March 23 is the last day that comments will be accepted.  Attend the hearing or submit comments in writing by one of the following methods:

  1. Online: DEL Rules Comment webpage. Click “Add Comment” to give your input, or “View Comments” to read what others have said.
  2. Email the DEL Rules Coordinator
  3. Mail comments to Rules Coordinator, DEL, P O Box 40970, Olympia, WA  98504-0970.
Only input received at the hearing or written comments received on or before March 23 as noted above will become part of the official record.  DEL will respond to all comments submitted and provide a combined response to all who comment on a particular proposal.  The combined responses will also be posted on the DEL website and provided to anyone upon request. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Early Achievers Celebrates Parent Recognition Month

Early Achievers Pagers
New Early Achievers pages!
National Parent Recognition Month honors parents for the important roles they play in their homes and communities across the nation. Parent leaders may be a parent, grandparent, foster parent or any other care provider in a parenting role who share their perspective to effect change.

The Department of Early Learning (DEL) celebrates the contributions parents and families make to our society on a daily basis and recognizes that all parents have the potential to be great leaders. We are excited to announce a new online resource for parents and families to learn more about quality early learning in Washington through Early Achievers. Visit to learn more about:
  • The importance of quality child care and early learning
  • Early Achievers and how it is improving the quality of care in Washington
  • Finding quality early learning and care in your community
  • Additional resources and supports for families
The new pages also feature an expanded translated materials page for providers and all pages can be translated into multiple languages via the Google translate button at the top of each page.

For those who are interested in becoming leaders at the state level, the Early Achievers Review Subcommittee is currently accepting applications for members. This is a great opportunity to become involved in Early Achievers and its work to improve the quality of care for all children in Washington.

For more information, please visit:

Early Achievers Logo

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Update on Licensing, Health, and Safety at DEL


To the Early Learning Community,

The Department of Early Learning, which I have the honor to direct, regulates thousands of small businesses that provide childcare to 180,000 children in Washington every year. You hear a lot about “regulations crushing small businesses” and “regulations being critical to ensure safety.” Finding a balance between adequate safety and supporting childcare providers is important to getting the best outcomes for kids. 
  • We do fingerprint-based background checks on anyone who has unsupervised access to children, about 50,000 of these a year. This ensures that sex predators and people with a history of abusing or neglecting their own children don’t get to work in the industry. 
  • We make sure childcare facilities have fire safety checks, have safe playgrounds, have enough square footage to provide enough room for kids to move around, don’t have dangerous cords hanging down from window blinds, don’t have cleaning products or weapons accessible to children, etc. 
  • We make sure there are enough adults in the classroom to ensure safety. There are national standards for this kind of thing and we work hard to follow them. 
  • We ensure that facilities follow practices like safe sleep, food prep safety, good diapering practice to avoid fecal coliform infections, etc. 
  • We ensure minimum provider education levels because outcomes are much better for kids when they have a provider with a stronger educational background. 
  • We follow federally-required annual inspection schedules and incident follow-up deadlines.

Our goal is to prevent injuries and fatalities. Despite our best efforts some will occur, but many fewer than if we didn’t have rules providers have to follow.

In addition, we have a voluntary system (“Early Achievers”) that measures the quality of childcare. For taxpayer-subsidized kids we require at least a level 3 on our 5 point scale because it’s better for kids and we think taxpayers have a right to insist that they only pay for high-quality care. We pay more for higher quality care and instruction because it costs more. It’s worth it because we get better outcomes. Read more about Early Achievers here.

Like any regulator, we get complaints from the businesses that we regulate. They complain that our regulations cost too much to comply with, that our enforcement is biased against them because they are X, Y, or Z, or that we are inconsistent in our enforcement. Providers that have more than one location served by different licensors often have evidence that this is so, with different problems treated differently by different licensors. 

I try to approach problems like this analytically, so I asked for a systematic review of discipline practices across the state in my first few months. It turns out the businesses are right – we have different practices in different places, and often between different licensors inside the same office.  This isn’t OK, but it is a challenge to fix.  We have to have the regulation, but we also have to enforce it the right way. To improve the consistency and appropriateness of our licensing effort we’re doing the following: 
  1. Clarify the rules. Our rules should be readable by providers who have a high school education, our minimum educational requirement. We are in the middle of a complete re-write of what was a complex, multi-part document that had been written in pieces over decades. We’re aiming to be consistent across different types of facility – family child care homes, centers, and our state-run preschool program called ECEAP.
  2. Set clear expectations about consequences for violations. Safe sleep violations put vulnerable infants at risk of crib death. Keeping your paperwork in order so you don’t waste the licensor’s time checking everyone’s CPR training status is important, but perhaps not as much as safe sleep. We’re “weighting” the rules so our licensors and the small businesses we regulate can see how seriously violations of different rules will be treated.
  3. Training our staff. We’re planning to engage in a continuous review process on the new rules. Licensors will gather in groups to work through responses to common (and uncommon) situations that often get different responses and ensure that we’re all treating things the same way. We’ll document these cases to use as training for new licensors, and make them available to providers to see actual examples.

This isn’t an overnight project. The rules revision alone has already taken most of a year and we expect another 6-10 months of feedback, analysis and work to finalize the changes. It’s hard enough to change rules that we want to get it right. This is called the “Alignment” project, and you can read about it here.

We’re in the middle of the “weighting” process now, and are using a somewhat complicated but evidence-based approach to this to ensure that lots of stakeholders have input into the weights. Read about the weighting process here. 

Part of ensuring consistency of application of these rules is having an appeals process that makes sense. Our current process is just to have the supervisor of the original licensor review the decision. This doesn’t result in a lot of corrected actions and also doesn’t help build consistent practice. We’re moving to a new system where appeals go to a rotating group of experienced licensors who get to look at appeals monthly, without identifying information. This eliminates any implicit bias we may have about a provider and gets a single interpretation across the whole agency of the issue that’s come up. Our new process should roll out this spring. 

In addition to the formal steps we’re taking, we are investing in upgrading our software infrastructure so that licensors can track their observations on regular monitoring visits. Our new system is based on and works in the cloud.  We expect it to be easier to manage as well as being a useful tool to see how peers react to concerns a particular licensor may have. 

Building a regulatory system that is too extreme can result in significant compliance costs for providers. There needs to be some rules (not having enough adults in the building is cheaper, but very, very dangerous) but having too many onerous rules can push providers out of the licensed world. Sometimes it’s hard for parents to tell the difference, but it matters. We shut down an unlicensed facility in 2016 when we discovered there were way too many infants for one provider to manage and a person living in the household who was a level one sex predator with a gun collection. You might not be able to see this from the outside, but you don’t want your kid there. 

Finding the right balance is tricky, and we depend on public input to make the determination. It’s like taxes. It always feels to a taxpayer that their taxes are too high, but the societal costs of having an inadequate education system that the taxes pay for are much more severe. The safety and outcome implications of getting the balance of childcare regulation wrong are pretty severe as well, and it’s worth being thoughtful about how we approach it. 

We’ll keep updating and engaging with you over the next year as the projects I mentioned above move forward.


Ross Hunter
Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

DEL's Racial Equity Initiative: Closing the Gap

Race matters. During my time in the legislature I saw how government policies can dis-proportionally impact people of color. The way agencies make decisions and implement programs can have profound effects on the people they are trying to serve. Why does this matter for an agency like the Department of Early Learning? Because Washington is becoming increasingly diverse - 44 percent of the estimated 446,000 children under 5 years of age are from racial and ethnic backgrounds that are either American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black, Hispanic/Latino, multiracial, or Pacific Islander. Children of color are the fastest growing subgroup of all children under 5, and currently make up 60 percent of children under 5 years of age living in the lowest-income households.[1]
Race/Ethnicity of WA Young Children Under 5
by Household Income, 2015

While children of color currently account for 46% of the kindergarten population, they only make up 38.6% of the children who enter kindergarten ready for what lies ahead.[2] And we know that the opportunity gap doesn’t shrink in a child’s K-12 career.[3] When I put forth a goal for DEL to get 90% of kids ready for kindergarten by 2020, I very intentionally included in that goal that race and family income should no longer be predictors of readiness. With that in mind, I established a Racial Equity Initiative at the agency.

WA Opportunity & Achievement Gaps by Race/Ethnicity,
2015-16 School Year
Our focus for 2017 is to lay a strong foundation for ongoing efforts. This is not a quick fix with instant gratification. Making systemic change takes time and stamina. While I expect some short term results from my team, I am fully on board with a long-term commitment and strategy developed and implemented in partnership with families, communities of color and key partners.

Here’s what our plan looks like:

A. Develop and implement a comprehensive racial equity strategy. This strategy includes: 
  • A racial equity framework or shared approach to leading for equity. This framework will include a vision for the early learning system, principles, and a shared understanding of the historical and current context, language/definitions, and key concepts. 
  • A racial equity plan with specific goals, data, benchmarks, and priorities that lead to the greatest impact on closing opportunity gaps and removing barriers for children, families, and professionals of color. This plan will build on the Racial Equity Theory of Change for Early Learning. It will include both internal and external-facing strategies for DEL programs, policies, and practices with clear actions and accountability mechanisms. 
B. Develop and continually refine tools and processes (making time to gather input and consider impacts at planning and decision points) necessary to implement the racial equity strategy, including: 
  • Tailored racial equity impact analysis tools for program, policy, grant application, initiatives, and budget development. 
  • An agency-wide family, community, and stakeholder engagement protocol to ensure policies and decisions are meaningfully informed and influenced by those most impacted and marginalized. 
  • Disaggregated data and metrics to track results and measure the impact of DEL’s actions at the child/family/community level and outcomes at the program/agency level. 
C. Train and support DEL staff to increase their knowledge, awareness, and capacity to lead for equity
  • The first step is to convene and support a Racial Equity Team that will provide leadership in developing the racial equity strategy, tools, training, and processes. Team members will model culturally and linguistically responsive practices. They will play a critical role in setting the conditions and environment necessary to engage others in racial equity conversations and efforts.
Though DEL is at the forefront of many things, we are definitely not the first to undertake something like this. The City of Seattle, King County, the Puget Sound ESD, and a number of other governmental institutions have been implementing racial equity programs for several years. Lawmakers and bureaucrats are slowly coming to the realization that we cannot effect the change we’re seeking without making change internally and with the guidance and leadership of communities.

I’ll be personally participating in training sessions and will be guided in my decision making by the Racial Equity Team and its manager, Evette Jasper. As a white man from Microsoft and the Legislature, I’m doing my best to lead DEL as an ally to all of our providers, families, and children. My goal is to leverage the amazing opportunities we have to close the persistent and pernicious opportunity gap. I hope you join me in this critical and exciting work.

Thank you,

Ross Hunter
Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning

Read my statement on DEL’s support for inclusion and tolerance.

Want to learn more about the initiative and our progress at DEL in eliminating race as a predictor of kindergarten readiness? Visit this page.

[1] American Community Survey PUMS 2015 1-year data
[2] WaKIDS 6/6 readiness rates and kindergarten enrollment
[3] WaKIDS percent 6/6 and English Language Arts SBA percent met standard

Monday, February 13, 2017

WA Celebrates 30 Years of Comprehensive Pre-K

Taken at Tacoma Day ECEAP site
in Tacoma, WA.
The Washington State Department of Early Learning (DEL) celebrated 30 years of serving Washington children and families with the state's exemplary Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), the state's version of Head Start.

The program estimates serving approximately a quarter of a million children since it's start 30 years ago. Since then, the program has expanded and continues to grow with support and success. 

More about ECEAP

ECEAP provides early learning preschool or home-based services to support children’s development and learning that includes:
  • Family support and parent involvement.
  • Child health coordination and nutrition.
  • Services responsive and appropriate to each child's and family's heritage and experience.

ECEAP models include:
  • Part Day classes are 2 ½ or more hours, several days a week, during the school year.
  • Full School Day classes are 5.5-6.5 hours per day, 4 or 5 days a week, during the school year.
  • Extended Day is available at least 10 hours a day, year round, combining child care and ECEAP. Parents must meet work or training requirements.
For more information about eligibility and enrollment, go here:

How DEL Celebrated

Senator Andy Billig address his
community about ECEAP in Spokane.
DEL hosted two events, one in Spokane on October 4 and at the Hands On Children's Museum in Olympia on February 9. Both events welcomes guest speakers including Senator Andy Billig (in Spokane) and Representative Ruth Kagi (in Olympia), as well as real ECEAP teachers.

The event in Spokane welcomed over 100 guests from the ECEAP community and was featured state-wide in one of DEL's first ever Facebook Live posts.

ECEAP kids shared their wishes for the
future on star center pieces.
In Olympia, former ECEAP teacher, Sophia Rychener shared stories of the many children and families she has helped in Thurston County, and guests from Child Care Aware of Washington and the Washington Association of Head Start and ECEAP came to show support. 

"While we can see that few children start their Pre-K year in ECEAP with kindergarten entry skills," said Ross Hunter, DEL Director, "at the end of one year of ECEAP, the percentage of kids with kindergarten entry skills is higher, and with even more ECEAP, the outcomes are even greater."
Representative Ruth Kagi and DEL Director Ross Hunter
have fun at the Hands On Children's Museum in Olympia.
For more information about outcomes for kids in ECEAP, go here: ECEAP Outcomes Report.
If you own an early learning program that is interested in becoming an ECEAP site, go here: ECEAP Letters of Interest.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

WA Continues to Support Diversity, Inclusiveness in Early Ed


Hello Partners in Early Learning,

Following the Governor’s recent remarks on President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration, the Washington State Department of Early Learning (DEL) would like to reinforce our state’s commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion, not only for the general population, but within Washington’s team of high-quality early educators, early intervention service providers and our state’s smallest learners.

I want to make clear what our responsibilities as an agency entail – ensuring the health and safety of children and supporting high-quality early learning and intervention services. At DEL we work to help children in Washington prepare for success in school and life. We help families build resilience and ensure they have high-quality choices for the care of their children, no matter their race, religion, or place of birth. For nearly all of our programs, we do not collect data on immigration status or religious affiliation of the children and their parents, and we will not begin doing so. 

We are committed to supporting providers who offer high-quality and culturally relevant care, who reflect the communities they serve, and who have a deep degree of understanding and empathy for the challenges faced by many of our children and families.
Taken at Tacoma Day ECEAP site in Tacoma, WA.
Washington is becoming increasingly diverse, with 44 percent of the estimated 446,000 children under 5 years of age from racial and ethnic backgrounds that are either American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black, Hispanic/Latino, multiracial, or Pacific Islander. These kids are the fastest growing subgroup of children under 5. Our state has a long legacy of inclusiveness and tolerance, and it’s our responsibility to keep it alive. The diversity of Washington families is crucial to our success and future. 

DEL will absolutely not discriminate or enact policy that discriminates based on nationality, race, or religion. As always, I welcome your feedback on this, and I encourage you to join me in supporting the potential of every child.


Ross Hunter
Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning