Three States Highlight Efforts to Build Stronger ECE Systems
Washington, Minnesota, and Rhode Island have recently taken steps to build an equitable and aligned early learning system.
Jan. 30, 2023
There are several exciting developments for early care and education currently happening at the state level, as illustrated by a recent webinar hosted by New America and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). The webinar, titled “Bright Spots: Strategies and Success Stories on Building a System for Full Access to Early Care and Education for Children Birth to Five,” focused on how the states of Washington, Minnesota, and Rhode Island have recently taken steps to build an equitable and aligned early learning system. These three states took part in a peer learning community hosted by NIEER to assist them in their efforts. Below, I recap the different strategies taken by these states to develop an early learning system that works for all young children.
Nicole Rose, Assistant Secretary for Early Learning at the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families, focused on the state’s success in passing landmark legislation in 2021. The Fair Start for Kids Act is a $1.1 billion investment to improve the quality and accessibility of child care and early learning throughout the state that will be implemented according to a multi-year timeline. The Act was funded in part by a capital gains excise tax that was also enacted in 2021. In passing this tax, Washington joined 41 other states and D.C. that already tax capital gains.
Advocates wanted to ensure that quality early care and education programs were accessible to all families throughout the state. “In Washington, that meant making a change from federal poverty level to state median income [when it comes to income eligibility]. In programs, like child care, where we have a co-pay that meant capping the co-pay,” Rose said. In addition to expanding eligibility and reducing co-pays for child care, the Act also increases subsidy rates for child care programs and has enabled the state to add over 500 additional pre-K spots.
After summarizing the key provisions of the Fair Start for Kids Act, Rose focused on three of the current focus areas for the state when it comes to early education: 1) Improving program capacity and addressing enrollment barriers, 2) promoting quality across programs, partly by making convenient trainings available to early educators, and 3) engaging families, including by holding family listening sessions.
In 2021, bipartisan legislation was passed in Minnesota that established the Great Start for All Minnesota Children Task Force. Shakira Bradshaw, a task force co-chair, provided background on the task force. The legislation establishing the task force charged it with developing a plan and implementation timeline that ensures all families have “access to affordable, high-quality early care and education that enriches, nurtures, and supports children and their families.” The task force, which has been meeting monthly since November 2021, must submit a final report by February 1, 2023 that includes an implementation timeline for phasing in a plan over a period of six years, between July 2025 and July 2031.
Sandy Simar, a task force co-chair and parent, highlighted how, as they began their work, the task force “found common ground on a few essential commitments.” These essential commitments included: 1) Centering equity by identifying historically disenfranchised groups in need of high quality early education, 2) acknowledging the importance of a mixed delivery system and respecting different family preferences, and 3) acknowledging that care and education are intertwined since every experience a child has is a learning opportunity.
Finally, Jenny Moses, another task force co-chair, previewed some of the recommendations the task force included in a draft report submitted in December. Some of the major recommendations include: dramatically expanding affordability by ensuring no family pays more than seven percent of their income for services, providing programs with adequate funding to deliver effective services by paying for the true cost of services rather than the market rate that’s currently used, and paying at least a living wage to early educators along with paid time off and health insurance.
Rhode Island was the final state to highlight some of their recent work on behalf of young children. Kayla Rosen, Director of Early Childhood Strategy with Rhode Island’s Office of the Governor, focused her remarks on the state’s efforts to expand access to the Rhode Island State Pre-Kindergarten Program (RI Pre-K).
The state has been working for over a decade to expand access to RI Pre-K and currently serves over 2,300 four-year-olds through a mixed delivery system. The FY23 enacted state budget includes plans to expand the program to 5,000 seats by 2028 for both three- and four-year-olds. “This is big because it would mean doubling the program,” said Rosen. The budget also calls for supporting the infant and toddler sector during pre-K expansion. “Too often when we talk about pre-K we just talk about pre-K, but we don’t think about the impact on the rest of the system and this demanded that we do,” Rosen added.
In a comprehensive plan that was submitted in late December, the state’s interagency early childhood team made several recommendations. The recommendations included: making investments across the mixed delivery system to build a pipeline of programs ready to become RI Pre-K providers, developing program models to meet the goal of expanding pre-K to three-year-olds, and providing additional supports for multilingual learners in RI Pre-K. “Like many states, a big proportion of our young children are multilingual learners yet they’re not assessed for multilingual learner status until they’re in kindergarten. We want to think about how to help kids earlier,” said Rosen.
Rosen concluded Rhode Island’s presentation by listing a few next steps. The state was recently awarded a $4 million, one-year PDG B-5 Planning Grant that will help support implementation of some of the recommendations, including enhanced family engagement and support and reforms to make the RI Pre-K lottery more accessible for families.
For more information about the work these three states are doing, check out the webinar recording as well as related resources.
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