Washington State Election Doesn’t Change Much: Still Stuck in a Budget Rut

Unlike across the country the election is Washington State was not a real game changer.  Republicans were successful in getting a firmer hold onto the Senate. They now have 25 Republicans and 24 Democrats.  In the House it is fairly evenly divided with Democrats holding a thin margin of 51 to 47. Democrats lost 4 House seats last Tuesday. The other interesting thing that happened was that 1351 passed with a razor small majority. The initiative calls for additional dollars to be spent on class size reduction for grades 4 through 12th over the next few years.

So where does this leave early learning? It’s a bit early to say, but in general about the same place we were in prior to the election. There continues to be strong bipartisan support for ECEAP and other early learning programs. Reach Out and Read is also often cited as an early learning program Republicans really like. The legislature is also likely to take up the Early Start Act—a bill authored by Rep. Ross Hunter and Rep. Ruth Kagi. The bill would fast track our state’s quality ratings and improvement program known as Early Achievers.  It would require all providers to meet a Level 3 within 5 years in order to continue to accept working connections child care dollars.  ECEAP will be impacted as well. All ECEAP programs will eventually have to receive a Level 4 to continue to operate and they will be mandated to provide at least one full day option through their agency.  Finally, the bill tries to fix the continuing problems families are having maintaining their child care subsidy by authorizing all families that utilize working connections child care for a full year regardless of job loss or income changes.

The real work will be around the budget. The Governor and lawmakers will need to agree on a budget that puts some new money towards K-12 to meet the McCleary Court decision and possibly some additional funds to support more class size reduction because of 1351. The challenge of course is how to come up with $1 to $3 billion more without major cuts to services for our most at risk children and families. With Republicans in control of the Senate efforts to raise a significant amount of revenue to pay for school funding will be difficult. And while most lawmakers regard early learning as being central to educational outcomes there is not a clear consensus about whether ECEAP should be included in the definition of basic education—leaving it looking in from the outside at the moment.

We expect the Governor’s budget to be released the first two weeks of December. Typically, the Governor will release something called a book 1 budget and then a book 2 budget. The book 1 budget is a budget that simply looks at what can and cannot be funded with current dollars. Most likely, it will include cuts to a lot of programs, including ECEAP. The book 2 budget will likely be released immediately following that. It is assumed that the Governor will include new revenue in the budget to avoid having to make drastic cuts to pay for new education spending. We will update you on the ins and outs of the Governor’s budget when it is released.

Finally, I want to encourage you to join us for the WSA Advocacy Day. It is taking place Wednesday February 11th in Olympia. In the past over 300 Head Start and ECEAP directors, staff, parents, and friends have joined us. It is a great opportunity to hear from our state’s early learning champions including Governor Inslee. More information about the Advocacy Day will be out in the beginning of year.