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” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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: http://bostonreview.net/archives/BR37.5/ndf_james_heckman_social_mobility.php

[4] RAND 2016, “Informing Investments in Preschool Quality and Access in Cincinnati”, http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1461.html

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 www.MERIT.del.wa.gov 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
Email: subpool@imaginewa.org

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 slc@del.wa.gov 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 slc@del.wa.gov 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 del.wa.gov/early-achievers.