Leg Update #8 Week 8 of Session Friday, 3/8/2013

CONTENTS

SINGLE BEST INVESTMENT OF THE WEEK:

Remind your elected officials that high-quality early learning opportunities for our most at-risk children are a top priority. High-quality early learning experiences are the foundation for success in school and life.

Why does high-quality early learning matter?

  • The early years are a critical and unique time. Brain development is the most intense  in the first three years of life. The brain is open to learning from positive experiences and more vulnerable to adverse conditions. What happens early in life has a profound impact on limiting or expanding a child’s academic, social, and physical potential (WA State Birth-to-3 Subcommittee Recommendations, p.5).
  • Wherever children are – quality matters. Whether at home with a parent, relative, or nanny, or in licensed child care, supporting a young child’s healthy development is important. Research shows children will thrive and be more likely to show up to school ready to learn when they have nurturing, responsive relationships; learning-rich environments; and access to services that meet their physical, social, emotional, and development needs (WA State Birth-to-3 Subcommittee Recommendations, p.5).
  • School readiness makes a difference. When children have the social and emotional skills to make friends, language skills to express their ideas, and pre-literacy and math skills such as letter and number recognition among other important skills, they are better positioned to do well in school.  Children facing multiple risk factors (such as poverty, domestic violence, language and cultural barriers, incarcerated parents) are less likely to be prepared for school. In turn, they have increased trouble in succeeding in school. The preparation gap leads to an achievement gap in K-12 (WA State Early Learning Plan, p.5). This gap is disproportionately high for students of color.

Why should high-quality early learning be prioritized for at-risk children?

  • Poverty is a risk factor. Research confirms that poverty is a factor that puts kids at risk for academic hardship or school failure. For instance, national research shows 13% of low-income children repeat one or more grades in K-12, which former Governor Gregoire’s office estimated costs us $270 million per year for students who repeat a grade. Additionally, we know that ECEAP, our state’s comprehensive preschool program, serves some of our most vulnerable children with more than two-thirds of participating families at or below 80% of the federal poverty line which is less than $17,640/year for a family of four (DEL ECEAP Outcomes Report for the 2011-12 School Year, p.4).
  • Too many at-risk children in Washington state not entering school ready to succeed. Data from WaKIDS, our state’s kindergarten transition process, shows only 55% of the children assessed enter kindergarten with adequate skills in the six domains of early childhood development. Furthermore, data shows the opportunity gap is evident within the first weeks of kindergarten. This opportunity gap is disproportionate for children of color and children in poverty.

Why does this message matter now?

  • Budget negotiations are approaching and cuts are imminent. Within the next two weeks, the focus in Olympia will shift in earnest to budget deliberations. The Legislature faces a roughly $2 billion budget gap they will need to close. This comes on top of the $10 billion in cuts that have already been made since 2009. Many of these cuts have been made to proven, well-supported programs. Thus, it is clear that very tough choices must be made. It is important to continually remind legislators of the value of high-quality early learning.

What can you tell your elected officials?

  • High-quality early learning opportunities for our most at-risk children are a top priority.
  • Research confirms poverty is a factor that puts kids at risk for academic hardship or school failure which is tough on kids, families and schools and costs us too much money. National research shows 13% of low-income children repeat one or more grades in K-12. Former Governor Gregoire’s office estimated grade repetition costs us $270 million per year.
  • The demand for high-quality services for our most vulnerable children is high and cutting services would exasperate this problem. ECEAP, our state’s comprehensive preschool program serves some of our most vulnerable children with more than two-thirds of participating families at or below 80% of the federal poverty line which is less than $17,640/year for a family of four (DEL ECEAP Outcomes Report for the 2011-12 School Year, p.4). Yet, according to DEL 3,347 children were on the waiting list as of January 2012. The issue of access is compounded when the impact of federal sequestration is factored in. Approximately 1,000 children in Washington State are slated to lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start (the successful early learning programs ECEAP was modeled after) when the sequestration cuts go into effect.
  • Our children’s lifelong success and our shared economic vitality depend on our kids getting a strong start in school and life. Research proves quality early learning leads to increased success in school, graduation rates, workforce readiness, job productivity, community engagement, and lifetime income thus greater contributions to our tax base and economy. Investments in quality early learning decrease crime rates, teenage pregnancy, welfare dependency, job training costs, special education costs, and grade repetition.
  • We can’t afford to not invest in high-quality early learning for our most vulnerable children. As you face tough budget decisions, please preserve our state investments in high-quality early learning programs and services like ECEAP, home visiting, Working Connections Child Care, and WaKIDS.

How do you contact your elected officials? 
Use the legislative district finder to learn your state senator and two representatives. You can email, write (via postal letter), or call them (1-800-562-6000). Be sure you include your address in your email or letter so they know you are a constituent.

WEEK AT A GLANCE

House and Senate floor action dominates the week. 3/31 marks the cut-off for bills to be voted out of their house of origin (e.g. a bill dropped in the House must be voted out of all relevant committees and off the House floor and vice versa in the Senate) to continue through the process this legislative session. After bills are successfully voted out of their house of origin they go to the opposite chamber for consideration.

Impact of federal sequestration may be significant for early learning. After Congress missed the 3/1 deadline for reaching a budget deal, automatic sequestration cuts went into affect. Federal and state agencies are working to understand how the cuts will play out. The full impacts are yet to be determined in Washington State, but initial speculation points to likely cuts in Head Start, Early Head Start, and Seasonal Child Care (funded from the discretionary portion of the federal Child Care and Development Fund). This means 1,000 Head Start and Early Head Start and 4,400 seasonal child care slots are at risk of being cut.

BILL STATUS

Legislators spent most of this week in their chambers debating hundreds of bills. Both the Senate and House face a 3/13 deadline to approve bills introduced in their respective chambers (e.g. House bills must be approved by the full House and Senate bills by the full Senate). Following this 3/13 deadline, the focus returns to policy committees where the policy committees will review those proposals that have already made it through one chamber.

HB 1723, focused on early learning system improvements, was voted out of the House. HB 1723 received a floor vote in the House late in the evening on 3/6, passing out with 5 Republican votes. The final vote count came to 59 in favor, 38 opposed and 1 absent. This bill now moves over to the Senate and is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Early Learning and K12 Committee on Friday 3/15 at 8am. Amendments accepted last week in House Appropriations narrow the bill’s focus to creation of a task force charged with identifying strategies to align and integrate early learning funding and eligibility. It does contain funding increases for Working Connections Child Care reimbursement, home visiting and ECEAP, but implementation of these increases are contingent upon provision of sufficient funding.

Child care bills moving through legislative process.  HB1671 received a floor vote in the House on 3/6, passing out of the House with little debate. SB 5595 still awaits floor action. Action on SB 5595 must be taken by the 3/13 deadline to remain in-play this legislative session. Both HB 1671 and SB 5595 are largely policy bills at this point, with the goal of increasing the efficiency of Working Connections Child Care for families and providers.  The wage increases included previously have been stripped from both bills.