Leg Update #15 2013 Wrap-up 7/15/2013

CONTENTS

Note: This message concludes the 2013 legislative session updates. Thank you for your continued advocacy and dedication to these important issues. 


SPECIAL SESSION UPDATE

Budget negotiations conclude—final 2013-2015 budget approved. The state legislature approved a 2013-2015 operating budget on Friday, June 28 ,during its second Special Session thus averting a shutdown of state government on June 30, the last day of the fiscal year. The Democratic-led House and the largely Republican Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate agreed on a $33.5 billion two year budget. This budget includes an expansion to early learning services and about $1 billion in new funding in K-12 education in response to a State Supreme Court ruling that the state was not amply funding K-12 education. Governor Inslee signed the budget on June 30. While the budget does not include any new major revenue sources, there is about $250 million in new revenue largely attributed to closing tax loopholes that were inadvertently created through two court rulings (one regarding estate tax, the other regarding telecommunications tax).

Significant early learning budget and policy victories. Considering the economic and political landscape, the early learning budget and policy victories from the 2013 legislative session were significant. For years our state’s projected revenue has fallen below expected expenditures on programs and services. The main response has been to cut services, even to proven programs, thus driving the reality that not every worthy investment can be funded every year. Additionally, the Supreme Court ruling (known as the McCleary decision) put pressure on the Legislature to enhance K-12 education funding by at least $1 billion in order to more fully fund state’s constitutional mandate. Also, the configuration in the Senate with two Democrats joining Republicans to form the Majority Coalition Caucus meant that there were new dynamics in decision making and advocacy. In the end, there were enhanced investments in and improvements to programs serving children ages birth through kindergarten and their families. Your persistent advocacy made a difference in keeping early learning a top priority in both policy and budget conversations.

More work remains. Although the 2013 legislative session has come to a close, ongoing advocacy is needed to make certain early learning remains at the forefront of legislators’ priorities and to ensure our diverse children, families, and communities have access to a portfolio of high-quality services that help them thrive.


EARLY LEARNING BUDGET VICTORIES

Enhanced investments in services to support our diverse families. The final budget includes increased investments in a variety of services including home visiting, child care, preschool, state-funded full-day kindergarten, and the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS), our state’s kindergarten transition program. See details below.

Working Connections Child Care (WCCC). WCCC is a program that helps low-income working families and families participating in WorkFirst activities to afford child care.  Notably no change was made to the eligibility level (200% federal poverty line) or to the cap on the number of families served (32,000), both were issues of debate during session. The base rate for WCCC was increased by 2% and child care providers may earn an additional 2% increase when they join Early Achievers and earn a level 2 or higher rating. Early Achievers is our state’s voluntary child care Quality Rating and Improvement System. (See more on WCCC in the 2/1/2013 update)

Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). ECEAP is our state’s comprehensive, proven high quality preschool program for vulnerable three-and four-year-olds. A $22.391 million increased investment was made to ECEAP which includes: (1) a 20% increase in slots (350 additional slots in the first year; 1,350 additional slots in the second year) and (2) a per slot rate increase, bringing the rate to $7,500 per slot in the second year of the biennium. An additional $150,000 is provided for an evaluation of ECEAP.

Expansion of state-funded full-day kindergarten (FDK) and WaKIDS, the state’s kindergarten transition process. Schools receiving state FDK funding must use WaKIDS. The final budget expanded state-funded FDK to reach 43.75% of schools (from the current 22%) with the highest poverty rates. And an additional $3.5 million was included to help WaKIDS keep pace with FDK expansion. (See more on FDK and WaKIDS in the4/19/2013 update)

Home visiting. An additional $1 million for home visiting services was included in the final budget. This is in addition to the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) funds ($934,000 per year) which are a required state investment in order to draw down significant federal grant dollars. (See more on home visiting in the 3/29/2013 update)

Maintained investments. Current levels of investments in Child Care Aware (our state’s child care resource and referral network) and Reach Out and Read Washington were included in the final budget. (See more on early literacy and Reach Out and Read Washington in the 3/18/2011 update)


EARLY LEARNING POLICY VICTORIES

Policies expand and improve existing programs. This session a number of bills passed that help expand critical services like proven high-quality preschool and child care supports for working low-income families. Additionally, technical improvements were made to existing systems.

HB 1723, Early Start, aims to improve outcomes for children by defining and expanding access to high-quality early learning opportunities. The final bill sent to Governor Inslee primarily: (1) allows the use of three non-instructional days for the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS) family connections component; (2) establishes the statutory framework for the Early Start program (including the program components) that technical workgroup will be working to flesh out; and (3) includes program enhancements to Working Connections Child Care. The bill does not include any dedication of I-502 funding (from the marijuana initiative) to early learning. Governor Inslee exercised partial veto authority and removed section four which created a technical workgroup within the Department of Early Learning to develop strategies that align and blend federal and state early learning funding. His rationale is that the task force was duplicative of the task force created in SB 5595 which he believes has broader stakeholder participation and a larger scope of analysis.

SB 5595, Working Connections Child Care (WCCC), focuses on a number of reforms to the WCCC system byadding on efficiencies and improvements, including: (1) the elimination of the current custody/visitation policy; (2) new authorization categories for minor changes in work schedules; (3) professional training for front-line state staff working with WCCC recipients; and (4) simplification of requirements related to child support as income. The bill also creates a legislative task force on child care improvements that must report findings to the Governor and appropriate legislative committees by December 31, 2013.

SB 5809, Home Visiting, makes technical changes to the Home Visiting Services Account (HVSA). Currently, the state’s investment in home visiting services as well as significant federal grant dollars are deposited into the HVSA where those funds leverage private match dollars. Thrive by Five Washington (Thrive) is responsible for administering the home visiting services delivery system and providing support to funded programs. The bill sets a target for having state funds matched at 50% by the Thrive each fiscal year. In the event that a 50% match is not meet, DEL and Thrive must jointly submit a report to the appropriate legislative committees detailing the reasons why the 50% match rate was not achieved.

SB 5904, Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), increases ECEAP enrollment by 10 % and increases the rate paid per slot by 10% in the 2013-2015 biennium. The bill requires DEL to create a plan for expanded implementation (due to the Legislature by September 30, 2013). This bill also requires the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of ECEAP outcomes due to the Legislature by December 15, 2014.