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Early Learning Takes Center Stage January 2015

Joel Ryan CCF Board Member

Many new parents can relate to the challenges my wife and I faced finding high-quality child care for our daughter.

We had a long list of criteria–and high standards. It needed to be a safe, warm, compassionate environment. We wanted a daycare that placed emphases on our child’s cognitive and social development.

Our search wasn’t easy. We spent countless hours talking with other parents, touring daycares and accosting parents with dozens of questions as they picked up their kids to get the real story. And the good places all had long waiting lists.

As we searched, I wanted a good place, but was secretly searching for the place that would commence our daughter’s path to the Ivy League. My wife likened our search to the movie Baby Boom in which Diane Keaton’s character is informed that if a child didn’t get into the right daycare she wouldn’t get into the right kindergarten and so on.

New child care rating system makes the search easier.

Over the last couple years, legislative Children’s Champions dedicated to helping parents find great child care centers have made important improvements. The Washington State Department of Early Learning recently launched Early Achievers, a ratings system structured similar to hotel or restaurant ratings.

Parents visiting the Child Care Aware of Washington website can research the license and ratings of local child care providers. Read more about Early Achievers on the Dept. of Early Learning website.

Not all child care providers are currently included on Early Achievers. For providers needing a boost to meet standards, additional coaching or financial incentives are available.

A new legislative session begins in January, but conversations are already taking place with lawmakers and early learning advocates about what can be done to ensure that all children start kindergarten ready for school.

A primary goal for many Washington lawmakers is to maintain and expand our state’s successful early learning rating system so all providers can participate. Federal funds supporting the endeavor cease in 2015 making it urgent that Olympia steps in to support Early Achievers.

Early learning for at risk children is a solid return on investment.

Next session, lawmakers are also tasked with expanding Washington’s high quality preschool program for at risk children called Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program or ECEAP.

Washington Institute of Public Policy found that early learning programs, such as ECEAP, save taxpayers $4 for every $1 invested because attending children are less likely to need expensive remedial assistance or get held back a grade. These children are more likely to graduate high school and go on to college than peers who did not participate. But despite these advantages, ECEAP only serves about half of the preschool age children eligible for the program.

Teaching valuable parenting strategies during home visits.

Continuing brain development research makes the case for increasing funding for at risk pregnant women, infants and toddlers. The Home Visiting in Washington State programs are incredibly effective in helping these populations.

Trained nurses, social workers and child development experts visit a family once or twice a week depending on the model. They teach the new or soon to be moms and dads effective parenting skills, monitor the child’s development and support the new parent during the challenging first few years.

Early Achievers, ECEAP and home visits by child development experts are a helpful, but more Champions for Children are needed to create an effective system.

Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-Shoreline), a legislative force for early learning in Washington and Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, are working on legislation to establish a more integrative system. The goal is make it easier for parents to find quality child care while knitting the various early learning funding streams together to create more efficiency and influence.

All of this work only happens if we continue to elect Champions for Children.

The next legislative session will bring focus to how to fund the K-12 system and meet legal mandates. Some lawmakers would fund K-12 by slashing critical services for children including early learning. (SEE the CCF Scorecard) while others would close outdated and wasteful tax loopholes to fund K-12 and early learning.

This November, Washington voters decide which approach they support.

As a board member of the Children’s Campaign Fund, I urge you to take a hard look at the candidates running for office. Ask them tough questions. Urge them to support funding early learning programs so all Washington’s children enter kindergarten at the same starting line. Read the CCF 2014 endorsements on our website.

And thank you for your continued support for the Children’s Campaign Fund, so that we can invest in candidates that will invest in children!

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