Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Taking Steps to Understand the Child Care Market in Washington

Headlines have been running coast-to-coast about the rising cost of child care. Parents all across Washington are feeling the burden. If we are going to find solutions to this issue as a state, we need to have a clear picture of the problem.  A few big questions for DEL to explore: how much does it really cost to run a child care in this state, and what does this mean for the rates child cares are charging families?

DEL is gathering tuition rate and operating cost information from licensed providers in order to be a more effective advocate for improvements in the early childhood education market. The Cost of Quality project and Market Rate Survey are opportunities for providers to share their input about their experiences in the child care market. 

Invitation emails started going out last week to approximately 350 centers to take part in a survey that asks about the costs of operating a center and investments in quality. The survey will run through July 2017 with a report due out this fall. For in-home family child care providers, DEL plans on launching a survey next summer.

In addition, the Market Rate Survey is getting a makeover this year. Look for a trimmer simplified survey of child care rates coming this fall. We will include all licensed providers this year and will gather the same information from both centers and family homes. 

Want to learn more? Visit our research page to view past Market Rate Surveys, and keep an eye out there for future information about this work!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Legislative Session and Government Shutdown Update

Great news! The Legislature has approved the 2017–19 operating budget and will soon transmit it to Gov. Inslee for his signature. The governor will act on the budget by midnight, which will avert a shutdown of state government operations funded by the operating budget. Please continue to check the OFM website for more information as it becomes available. Watch this space next week for details on how the budget deal will impact the programs that DEL delivers. For now – enjoy the Independence Day weekend with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that programs and services for our state’s children and families are intact.


On Wednesday this week the state Legislature began its 3rd special session of the year. At the time of writing this, they have not yet come to an agreement on the operating budget, something they are constitutionally mandated to accomplish every two years.* This means that they have until midnight on June 30th to reach said agreement, or the State of Washington shuts down. By law, agencies cannot spend any state or federal funds without a legislatively approved spending plan. What does that mean for the Department of Early Learning, and all of the thousands of children we serve?

To start, we have not had a government shutdown in this state in history, and we don’t expect that we will have one this year. However, as an agency we are legally required to do certain activities to get prepared for the possibility. Families receiving subsidy for childcare and the providers who serve them have been sent notifications of the termination of their services. Agency employees are receiving layoff notices. Contractors are being told that the contracts they’ve prepared and signed with us for the new fiscal year won’t go into effect.

Even though we don’t believe the state will shut down, this prep work is a big challenge for the children, parents, and providers that DEL serves and partners with. We have nothing but the utmost compassion for and empathy with them about the immense stress these legally required activities have caused.

The following is an example of the services that would be effected in the event of a shutdown:
  •  Licensing activities for 5,600 child care programs would cease (only emergency on-call services for DLR/CPS investigations would be running).
  • Child care subsidy would be shut off for about 31,000 low-income families with about 52,500 children.
  • Work done by contractors for services like Early Achievers, Home Visiting, ECEAP, and ECLIPSE (the exception is ESIT services, which has a federal mandate to be uninterrupted).
  • All agency operations, including access to phones and email. There would be no DEL staff to contact during a shutdown.

Some of you may recall from the last budget agreement cycle in 2015 that the budget was enacted at the last possible moment, and then state agencies have to go about the business of reopening for business. It can be a frustrating process, but we are working hard to make sure that our clients experience the most minimal effects possible.

How do you find out if the shutdown has occurred, or if it has, when it is over? Visit the Office Financial Management’s website, www.ofm.wa.gov. They will be the clearinghouse for updates in the event of a shutdown.

To everyone that works tirelessly day after day to care for, support, and love the children of Washington, thank you for your work and patience as we plan through these scenarios. We’re hopeful that we will see a final budget soon and can move forward with the business of preparing our state’s littlest learners for the world ahead.

Ross Hunter

Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning

*Unlike Congress, which can pass continuing resolutions and partial funding bills to punt the responsibility down the line. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

ECEAP – Washington’s Comprehensive Preschool Program

As another school year draws to a close, we wanted to take a moment to highlight one of the key programs that DEL administers for our state’s littlest learners. We’ve posted about ECEAP often on this blog and in social media, but those of you who are new to the early learning system in Washington may be scratching you heads at this funky acronym and wondering “what does ECEAP do for children?” 

The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is Washington’s pre-kindergarten program that prepares 3- and 4-year-old children for success in school and in life. Children ages 3 and 4 are eligible for ECEAP if their family income is at or below 110 percent of the federal poverty level or if they are experiencing specific risk factors. For a family of 4, that’s $26.730 a year or less. 

Since 1985, ECEAP has focused on the well-being of the whole child by providing comprehensive nutrition, health, education and family support services to Washington’s most at-risk young children. ECEAP currently serves more than 11,500 children in 351 locations in Washington State. 

ECEAP and Academic Benefits 

  • A 2014 evaluation by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) found that children who participated in ECEAP had significantly higher math and reading test scores in the third, fourth, and fifth grades than similar children who did not participate. 
  • Children who participated in the 2015-16 school year showed significant progress in social-emotional, physical, language, and cognitive development and early literacy and math skills. 

ECEAP – Beyond the Classroom 

ECEAP text boxECEAP’s comprehensive approach goes far beyond the children’s classroom. Parents receive support through the program as well. ECEAP “truly helps future kindergarteners and parents” says Maria, an ECEAP parent. Parents have opportunities to develop leadership skills and work towards their personal goals with the help of program staff. ECEAP staff also assist families with the transition to Kindergarten. 

Nicole, whose son attends the Kennewick School District ECEAP program, describes his tremendous progress since attending ECEAP. “The school and teachers worked hard to accommodate our family’s specific needs,” she explains. Another parent adds that “ECEAP made it possible for our daughter to catch up to the level she should be at.” 

Enrolling in ECEAP

Enrollment for ECEAP services happens at the local level. Each ECEAP program is unique and tailored to the community needs. Interested families are encouraged to contact an ECEAP program to learn more and apply for admission. 

Learn More

Visit the ECEAP webpage to learn more about the program at https://www.del.wa.gov/eceap. For general questions contact ECEAP@del.wa.gov or call 360-407-3650.  

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Creating a Digital Child Care Attendance System

“Teacher: [taking attendance] Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?"
"Student: Um, he's sick. My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it's pretty serious.”
                   – Scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Taking attendance has always been problematic for teachers. Now, the federal government is requiring us to improve our attendance records for child care subsidies. Since they provide the bulk of the funds we use to pay for the subsidies we have to take this seriously.

We’re taking the opportunity to modernize this process in order to make providing child care easier for providers, easier on program administrators, less expensive to tax payers, more accurate and take less time for everyone involved.  

We know that child care providers don’t go into business dreaming about taking attendance and administrative red tape. Storing paper attendance records, submitting requested records via fax, reconciling attendance and subsidy billing; these are all headaches that take time to untangle. For providers, this is time that could be better spent engaging with children, taking advantage of education opportunities, or doing the thousand other things they need to run a successful business. 

There are a lot of important questions we’re considering as we go through this project: will the data collected from the system be secure (absolutely); will the attendance system we’re purchasing be available in languages other than English (we’re working on that); will providers have to pay for the system (the software will be free); and many more. The team working on it has put answers to many of these questions on a new webpage, found here

We’re not replacing the painful billing system yet, but collecting attendance electronically is necessary before we can do that. Replacing billing is high on our priority list for improving the system.

We don’t yet have a set date when all providers accepting subsidy have to begin using the new digital attendance system, but we’ll have more information about implementation dates by August of this year. Keep an eye on the project webpage (https://www.del.wa.gov/Attendance-Project) for timing and ways that you can be involved in the project. 

Ross Hunter
Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning

Thursday, June 1, 2017

REVISED: DEL is Seeking Volunteers to Participate as an Attendance Project Usability Tester

We do not need any more volunteers for usability testing.  Due to the tremendous response to our call for volunteers--all of the usability sessions have been filled. 

Thank you to all of the people that volunteered to test the usability of several of the attendance systems DEL is evaluating for purchase.  Your feedback will help DEL find the best attendance tracking system for our state. 


The Department of Early Learning (DEL) is currently working through a new attendance system which will track attendance of children participating in Washington’s child care subsidy program. The process is currently done on paper forms, creating a complicated and confusing process for families, providers, and the State. With the federal government now requiring us to improve our child care subsidy attendance records, we are in the process of selecting an electronic attendance system. This new system will track, store, and report on child attendance to support provider billing. The digital system should be easier to use and more accurate. The goals of the Attendance Project are to:  

  • Replace the manual paper attendance system used by most providers with a modern, off-the-shelf, cloud-based software.
  • Reduce the amount of time that providers and State workers spend tabulating attendance hours.
  • Reduce billing inaccuracies and over-payments with internal controls over child care payments.
  • Implement the new system in a manner that supports providers’ different comfort levels with technology.

Prior to committing to an attendance system we need your help.  We are seeking volunteers, licensed child care providers and parents using licensed care, to test the usability of systems we are evaluating for purchase and provide feedback. Your feedback will directly contribute to the selection of a system that will improve child care subsidy attendance tracking. 

The usability study is being conducted between May 25 through June 8 in Olympia. Volunteers will commit to approximately 1-1 ½ hours in our Usability Lab interacting with one of the attendance systems while providing feedback about the system to a facilitator. These sessions will be video recorded. 

Volunteers are eligible to receive a $75.00 gift card and travel reimbursements based on current state reimbursement rates and in accordance with the State of Washington Office of Financial Management Travel Regulations (current rates for travel can be accessed at: http://www.ofm.wa.gov/resources/travel.asp). 
If you are interested in participating in this activity, please complete our 3 minute survey (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/R6GKH83) and a member of the Washington Technology Solutions (WaTech) User Experience Team will contact you within the next two business days to schedule a session.

Please contact communications@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!