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BrightSpark’s 2024 Legislative Priorities

BrightSpark’s 2024 Legislative Priorities

By Jaymie McLaughlin, BrightSpark’s Mobilization Coordinator

The 2024 legislative session right around the corner! This year, many crucial early learning issues are up for lawmakers to consider. Here are the three priorities BrightSpark’s advocacy team will be focusing on to advance kid-focused, antiracist early learning communities across Washington State!

(Just looking for a quick summary? Check out this handout summarizing our major goals!)

Priority #1 – Increase Investments in Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) Consultations

We know that early intervention is key to a secure foundation, positive school readiness outcomes, and long term success past graduation. The Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) Consultants provide intervention resources to early learning providers, families, and most importantly, to children in need. Their work builds resilience in childcare programs, expands teacher’s capacity to support complex needs, and connects families with much needed community resources and support.

This work has already positively impacted enough families and providers that the caseloads of consultants have been maximized, leading to a waitlist, when children and families cannot wait for support. With an investment of $1.75 million in Holding Hope, the statewide IECMH consultation program, we can ensure the hiring of more quality consultants to provide invaluable resources and support to children with complex needs, their families, and childcare providers.

This investment will ensure that the growing waitlist is significantly reduced, so more children are able to receive early intervention to support their ongoing developmental success. Families deserve high-quality, personalized care that is responsive to their specific needs and situations. Supporting IECMH is an investment in ensuring equity in outcomes for all children in Washington State.

This will allow for IECMH programs to:

  • Hire more consultants
  • Address growing waitlists
  • Ensure high-quality, personalized care for families

Priority #2: Make Child Care Available to More Families

We have a variety of ways that families can interact with the early learning system in Washington state. However, these options are often not affordable or accessible to the families in need of care. By making investments in the system that we have, cutting red tape, and improving accessibility, we can ensure that our earliest learners are receiving the quality care they deserve, and families are able to go to work to make the income they need.

One specific way to support access for families is by excluding child support, Social Security, and Supplemental Security Income Payments from being included in families’ gross income when applying for Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECAP) and Working Connections Child Care (WCCC). We know that child support is not paid consistently and Social Security is paid into throughout a taxpayer’s life and should not be the cause of excluding families from quality child care and education. These funds do not reflect the true income or spending power on a monthly basis for a family. Excluding these payments would allow more families to access the education and care that they need to continue on a path to success, while also getting more money into provider’s pockets without any additional costs to families.

Child care providers who offer care for infants or during non-standard hours (meaning hours outside of 6am-6pm, for example 24 hour care or overnight care) deserve to be recognized and compensated accordingly for the amazing services they’re providing. Increasing the infant rate enhancement and non-standard hour bonuses to $500 would encourage more providers to offer these slots and services, as well as uplift the field and retain providers who have been struggling to make ends meet themselves while staying open to support their community’s needs.

Families and providers often participate in task forces and workgroups that provide valuable insight into what families and providers need and how to improve our current system. In order to build a system that works, the people who actually live and work in the system must be a part of the conversation. However, too often we expect our caregivers to simply volunteer their valuable time while they’re already working full-time, potentially going to school, as well as caring for others. This is too much to ask without compensation that respects their valuable insight and time. By supporting stipends for families and providers who participate in these related task forces, through the Lived Experience Proposal, we are investing in improving the system by listening to the most important voices.

These are just a few of the changes that can be made to ensure a more equitable and accessible early learning system that puts more money into the hands of child care providers without raising the cost to families. These measures, and many more, will help Washington’s youngest learners have access to high quality child care that is culturally responsive, inclusive, and supportive of their continued and ongoing growth. With these, we can continue to show that Washington state believes in building the strongest foundation for each child in our community.

By allowing for more families to qualify for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) and Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) and increasing rate enhacements for participating providers, we can:

  • Help more families afford quality child care
  • Increase wages for providers without raising costs for families

Priority #3: Increase ECEAP Entitlement Capacity

The mission and essence of ECEAP is the belief that all eligible children are entitled to high quality care and should be able to access it through this Washington State program. ECEAP was codified into law in 2010 but this principle and goal to ensure that all eligible children have access to this program has yet to be realized due to lack of state funding.

Investing in more sustainable rates to keep these slots sustainable for child care providers as well as to increase the number of slots is one way that we can prepare our child care programs to be able to serve more children and families. Over the next biennium, over 6,000 slots would be added through rate increases and investments in more slots across the state for families in need to utilize.

To maintain high quality care and continue to support ongoing professional development, this investment would support scholarships for staff to meet high cost educational requirements as well as set aside funds for Complex Needs grants that support children with unique needs. By working with DCYF to scale up the ECEAP system, more children in Washington State will be able to access the care they deserve and their families will have the care they need.

By allocating more funding to increase the number of available ECEAP slots, available resources, and staff compensation, we can:

  • ECEAP to advance their effort to serve ALL eligible children
  • Ensurance that ECEAP programs are as high-quality as possible