Friday, May 19, 2017

Negotiated Rule Making Starts Today

We are starting a negotiated rule making and public comment process today for DEL’s updated, aligned, and weighted set of rules for Family Home and Center child care facilities. Check out the website for lots and lots of detail on the process.

This process is the required next step to completing our Standards Alignment process. The Early Start Act of 2016 mandated that DEL “align” its licensing rules for family homes and child care centers. This is essentially a re-write of the entire licensing WAC, and we’ve taken the opportunity as part of this do something long requested by our providers – “weighting” the rules so everyone shares the same sense of the importance of one rule over another in ensuring safety. The end result should be a progression of standards and regulations between licensed child care, Early Achievers, and ECEAP. The early learning system will have a unified set of regulations that are easy to understand by providers in the field.

Many agencies would choose at this point to negotiate separately the set of aligned rules with each group of “affected parties,” and then hold a protracted public comment process. Instead, DEL has chosen to gather public comments and negotiate the rules with people and organizations affected by them, all at the same time. 

I actually think this is a good idea – to get the interested parties all at one table together, trying to reach some sort of consensus. Adding parents and the public to the process will, I hope, vastly improve the quality of the outcome. The early learning field has made such great strides in the past few years in part because so many groups have often come together with one goal in mind: the health and well being of our state’s littlest learners. This process shouldn’t be any different.

People are obviously going to come at this from different perspectives and experiences. That’s a good thing. There may at times even be a little tension. That’s ok too. Push and pull is a healthy part of democracy. It ensures all groups and individuals are respected, considered, and protected. I’m confident about the great intentions of everyone who’s participating, whether it be in the formal negotiations, through alignment cafes, or by submitting comments as individuals. I’m also impressed by the work the DEL team has done thus far to get us all to this point. I look forward to the results.

Ross Hunter
Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Celebrating Child Care Providers in Washington!

Today is Provider Appreciation Day, a time for us to all celebrate the efforts of providers who care for and educate our state’s children. Here’s a message to providers from DEL Director Ross Hunter:

A Washington child care provider
comforting a sick child.
“Earlier this week I was asked to record a video for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction reminiscing about a teacher who had been powerful in my life, as part of National Teacher Appreciation Week. It was really easy, fun, and made me smile to think about the impact my high school calculus teacher had on my understanding about how the world of mathematics actually works. Despite my fondness for Mr. Machemer, in the real world, pre-school and childcare teachers are where the impact on children’s developing brains is most powerful.

The opportunity you have as teachers of our littlest, most sponge-like kids is incredible, and you really can change the world for the better.

Thank you for your commitment, your love for the children in your care, and for the positive impact you have on our littlest learners.”

Click here to learn more about Provider Appreciation Day. Share your stories of great child care providers with us on Facebook or on Twitter @DEL_wa! #ProviderAppreciationDay

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!