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Early Start Act passes Senate, both sides yet to agree on funding level

by caprecord

More childcare providers in Washington could have training under a bill passed Thursday in the state Senate.

Kindergarten class. Photo by the U.S. Department of Education.
Kindergarten class. Photo by the U.S. Department of Education.

Under House Bill 1491, the so-called Early Start Act, childcare and preschool providers who accept state subsidies for low-income families would be required to participate in the state’s Early Achiever program.

Right now, the program is voluntary. It aims to help kids get ready for kindergarten by providing childcare and preschool providers with training to improve the quality of care they provide to children.

“This bill is about providing high-quality early learning for kids who need it most,” Sen. Andy Billig, a sponsor of the Senate version, said Thursday. “Another way to say that is that this bill is about opportunity. It’s an opportunity for children to arrive at school ready to learn. It’s about opportunity for kids are from low-income situations to break the cycle of poverty. It’s about the opportunity for the state to reap the rewards the return on investment we know come from high-quality early learning.”

In addition to childcare facilities, it also applies to state- and federally-funded preschool programs, such as Head Start, ECEAP and Working Connections Child Care.

The program includes a 1-to-5 rating system. The ratings increase with more training. Childcare providers with higher ratings are eligible for larger subsidies.

Fewer than half of the state’s childcare providers are enrolled now.

Statewide, about 30,000 children are part of Working Connections program and 8,500 are part of ECEAP.

The bill passed 31-11 in the Senate. It was passed last month in the House, and moves back to the chamber for approval.

The two chambers still don’t agree on funding. The House budget includes more than $116 million to fund the bill. The Senate includes $55 million.

Sen. Steve Litzow, Mercer Island Republican and prime sponsor of the Senate version, said Thursday that both chambers will negotiate on the funding piece of the legislation.