Leg Update #9 Week 9 of Session Friday, 3/15/2013

CONTENTS


SINGLE BEST INVESTMENT OF THE WEEK:

Contact your elected officials to voice your support for proven early learning programs that give our most vulnerable children a stronger chance for success in school and life. ECEAP, home visiting, Working Connections Child Care, and WaKIDS are all critical investments..

Why does this message matter now?

  • Budget negotiations will soon intensify. A clearer picture of our state’s budget gap will emerge next week with the 3/20 release of the latest revenue forecast. This forecast will reflect the most up-to-date state revenue projections as well as caseload demands. This information will help determine the investment levels in areas such as K-12 education, our correctional system, and programs such as Medicaid. Release of the revenue forecast is the unofficial kickoff to earnest budget negotiations.
  • It is unclear what vehicles will advance early learning items. Policy bills and budget line items are two ways to impact early learning investments. With budget negotiations impending and policy bills facing more cutoff dates, it is unclear how early learning items will be advanced. So speaking up in support of items like ECEAP, home visiting, Working Connections Child Care, and WaKIDS will keep these issues before legislators as they face decisions on policy and budget items. Currently there are three early learning bills still alive (HB 1671, HB 1723 and SB 5595) that aim to address significant policy issues. However, the scope of proposed policy changes and level of program expansion proposed in all three bills have been scaled back due to cost concerns from legislators. This type of scaling back is not uncommon as budget realities come into focus. Even so, the bills still provide a platform to highlight gaps in our early learning system. These bills are now pending action in the opposite house of origin meaning HBs 1671 and 1723 await action in the Senate and SB 5595 awaits action in the House. They face multiple deadlines for action so their fate is uncertain at this time.
  • Your voice is always relevant. Faced with competing demands and limited resources, lawmakers look to constituents to inform the difficult decisions awaiting them.  Governor Inslee, the Senate, and House are all finalizing their own budget proposals for release in the coming weeks. Now is the time to speak up to ensure the early learning items you care about most are included in the budget.

What can you tell your elected officials?

  • As you face difficult budget decisions and turn your focus toward policy bills from the opposite chamber, please remember quality early learning investments are a proven strategy to ensure our most vulnerable children enter school ready to succeed.
  • Research shows state investments in proven early learning programs provide a positive return on investment with reductions in crime rates, teenage pregnancy, welfare dependency, job training costs, special education costs, and grade repetition.
  • ECEAP is an example of a proven program. It is our state’s comprehensive high-quality preschool program for vulnerable 3- and 4-year-olds and data shows children in ECEAP demonstrate big gains in many areas including a 68% increase in math skills from fall to spring (DEL 2011-12 Outcomes Report). ESHB 2731 from 2010 provided that ECEAP should be accessible to all who are eligible by the 2018-19 school year. Currently only 37% of eligible children are served.  Funding for more than 11,291 slots is needed to meet this target.
  •    Home Visiting is another program with positive benefits for vulnerable children. Voluntary evidence-based home visiting programs aim to enhance parenting and optimize the development of young children during the most crucial stages of child development. Through home visits, trained professionals work with at-risk pregnant women and/or parents of young children to provide support, coaching, and modeling of healthy interactions. Public investments in home visiting are leveraged with private dollars through the Home Visiting Services Account (HVSA), managed by Thrive by Five Washington.
  • Additionally, our state’s investment in Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) is critical to maintaining accessibility to child care for parents who work in low-wage jobs.  Currently, the state reimbursement for WCCC subsidies is far below the market rate (or what providers could be paid by a private pay family). An increase in the subsidy rate would bring the reimbursement closer to the actual cost of care, expanding the number of providers willing to serve children on subsidies.
  • WaKIDS is another important component of our educational pipeline with its focus on improving the transition to kindergarten by allowing families, early learning professionals, and kindergarten teachers to share information about incoming kindergarteners. WaKIDS serves as an inventory of the skills these kindergarteners have and creates a process for parents, early learning professionals, and kindergarten teachers to communicate so that a child’s needs are best met.
  • I urge you to prioritize investments in proven early learning investments by: (1) expanding ECEAP to meet the 2018-19 mandate that all eligible children be served; (2) increasing investments in evidence-based home visiting programs, thereby leveraging private dollars; (3) increasing the WCCC reimbursement rate to more accurately reflect the true cost of care; and (4) continuing the state’s investment in the WaKIDS kindergarten transition process.

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

Bills before opposite chambers. Lawmakers worked over the weekend and late into the evening to meet the 3/13 deadline for bills to be approved by their house of origin meaning bills introduced in the House had to be approved by the House and bills introduced in the Senate had to be approved by the Senate.  Unless deemed “Necessary to Implement the Budget” (or NTIB), bills that do not receive approval by this 3/13 deadline are considered “dead.”  NTIB bills are not subject to legislative deadlines.

At this point in the legislative process, attention again turns to the policy committees, but this time the policy committees will be reviewing bills introduced and approved by the opposite chamber (i.e. Senate committees will review approved House bills). Legislators will continue to face deadlines for bills to receive approval from policy and fiscal committees, and ultimately from the full body, prior to the end of session.

Budget work heating up. On top of this continued work with bills, we will soon see a concurrent focus on finalizing a biennial (or two-year) budget. Next week the state’s revenue forecast will be released. This forecast will provide an updated snapshot of our state’s financial standing, including a projected budget shortfall (anticipated to be more than $1 billion) for lawmakers to address.  Around the release of the revenue forecast, budget proposals from Governor Jay Inslee, the Senate, and the House are expected. Likely Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate will release individual proposals.

The House Republican Caucus released its proposed budget on 3/14, prior to the revenue forecast. The House Republicans propose to fund Education first, arguing it is the state’s paramount duty. Although PSHB 1057 by Rep. Gary Alexander does respond to the McCleary decision to fully fund basic education (see12/20/12 UWWA update for more information), expands Full-Day Kindergarten from 22% to 61% of kindergarten enrollees, and funds WaKIDS, the proposal is silent on other critical early learning items and proposes $729 million in reductions to health and human services (no details provided). It is important for lawmakers to consider the interconnectedness of the human services and educational systems. Children need access to services such as health care and food supports to be successful in school. Cuts to these areas could undermine school reform efforts.

After the various proposals are released, a representative from each caucus in both chambers (one Democrat and Republican from the House and one Democrat and Republican from the Senate) have traditionally joined with the Governor to negotiate a budget compromise that can garner sufficient votes for passage in both chambers as well as approval by the Governor. With the unique leadership situation in the Senate this year, representation in these budget negotiations may include someone from the Majority Coalition (the two Democrats – Sen. Rodney Tom and Sen. Tom Sheldon – joined with Senate Republicans to form a 25-23 governing majority) as well as someone from the Minority Democrats. Unlike the process for debating and passing bills, much of the work around the budget does not occur in a public, committee setting. This makes it all the more important that lawmakers hear about your priority issues before the final budget package is developed.

SB 5595 child care bill passes Senate right before deadline. SB 5595, which proposes policy changes to the Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) subsidy program, was approved by the Senate just before the 5:00 p.m. cutoff on 3/13.  The measure now moves to the House and remains a vehicle for action to strengthen WCCC.

HB 1723 receives Senate hearing. The comprehensive early learning bill, HB 1723, prime sponsored by Rep. Kagi, was heard in the Senate Early Learning and K12 Committee on 3/15 at 8am.  Testimony from early learning advocates and law enforcement professionals highlighted the benefits of quality early learning. In her remarks, Rep. Kagi stressed that while our state has made progress toward expanding access to preschool for low-income children, there is a need to infuse an educational focus into Working Connections Child Care.  Rep. Kagi praised Early Achievers (the state’s voluntary Quality Rating and Improvement System), emphasizing the importance quality plays in achieving positive outcomes.

The Committee also heard testimony from two family child care owners from the Spokane area opposing the bill.  They expressed concern that the bill could ultimately limit parental choice by placing additional prohibitive regulations on family child care providers.

Early learning leadership update.  Two significant announcements for state early learning leadership were made this week. On 3/12, Governor Jay Inslee announced the re-appointment of Dr. Bette Hyde as Director of the Dept. of Early Learning. In his press release, Governor Inslee highlighted Dr. Hyde’s leadership with the adoption of the state’s 10-year Early Learning Plan, the document that served as the foundation for the state’s successful Race to the Top grant.

Also this week, Thrive by Five Washington Co-Chair Jackie Bezos announced the 6/30 retirement of Thrive’sCEO, Nina Auerbach. Bezos saluted Auerbach’s leadership and her role in the 10-year plan and the creation of the Home Visiting Services Account.