Achieving High-Quality Early Learning and Care in Washington State

An Analysis of Workforce and Systemic Components That Influence Quality

High-quality early learning and care programs improve the academic achievement, health, and well-being of young children and pave the way for their success later in life. Extensive research has shown that with high-quality, comprehensive early learning and care, children do better in school, are less likely to commit crime, and are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college.

At the end of the 2005 legislative session, Governor Gregoire signed into law two bills that gave new weight to the importance of high-quality early learning and care. House Bill 1152 established the Early Learning Council and House Bill 1636 established an early childhood education career and wage ladder modeled after the state’s successful program during the years 2000-2003.

Many documents have already described the uncoordinated structure of the early learning and care system in Washington as well as the funding mechanisms and numbers of participants. Missing, however, has been a compilation of systemic attempts to achieve high-quality early learning and care and how well they have achieved their stated goals.

High-quality early learning and care is dependent foremost on the quality of the caregiver and the consistency of care. To determine how well Washington is promoting high quality early education and care, EOI focused on the following:

  • licensing requirements for child care centers and family home providers;
  • funding for early learning and care;
  • workforce indicators, including student enrollment in early learning and care programs at community and technical colleges, wages, benefits, turnover, and continuing education requirements and programs;
  • public support for measures specifically designed to improve outcomes for children, including training and accreditation programs; Head Start, Early Head Start, and the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program for low-income children; the Early Childhood Education Career and Wage Ladder, a program of wage incentives based on education and experience for child care workers; and programs administered by school districts that go beyond the state’s mandate to provide early learning for children with disabilities.

Much has been written about the success of comprehensive programs specifically targeted to children from low-income families. Publicly funded programs in Washington state that have had extensive outside evaluations focused on quality, offer clear guidance for future funding and expansion.

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