Raising a child is one of life’s most pivotal roles. Parents often turn to each other for support during the critical stages of their child’s development, but not all parents have access to the resources they need.

Alex and Mateo (2018)

For Alex, home visiting helped bridge the missing pieces of her Native heritage and supported her in reclaiming family traditions stripped from her through her great-grandfather’s U.S. Native boarding school experience.

Alex received home visiting services for the first time when she was pregnant with her oldest son, Mateo. But growing up, home visiting was already a part of her life as her mother was a tribal home visitor and a passionate advocate for early learning. Inspired by her mother, Alex felt she was destined to work in early learning, yet it wasn’t until motherhood that she intimately understood the precious rewards of home visiting support.

Mateo embraces his mom, Alex, and new baby brother Kulani (2019)

“Learning about the growth and development of my baby from my home visitor was fascinating! And that feeling like I’m succeeding as a first-time parent took me a long way.” Alex experienced a substantial shift in knowledge and confidence through her relationship with a home visitor; she was determined to support families in a similar way.

Bridging the Missing Pieces

The concept of home visiting is not new to Native families; Alex shared that home visiting is one of the most traditional things a Native family can do. Its critical process passes down knowledge and skills to preserve generational culture and heritage. In addition, home visiting creates a strong sense of community where the intrinsic needs of a child – during a foundational time in life – are addressed through trusted partnerships and shared goals.

Through home visiting, Alex established a special connection with local tribes as well as her own. Alex is an enrolled member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska but lives and works in Washington state. Connecting with other members of the Haida Tribe and creating a sense of community was not easy so far away from Alaska. However, her home visitor was able to help connect her to local resources and inspire her to the place where she is now — celebrating her cultural heritage and reclaiming family traditions lost through her great-grandfather’s boarding school experience.

Native children were forcibly removed from their families and placed in government operated boarding schools between 1869 and the 1960s. The schools used “systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies,” to force white assimilation. They changed children’s names, cut long hair, and prohibited any use of Native languages and cultural practices — or else they faced brutal punishment. “All the hurt and the rage: Elders recall trauma of Native boarding schools.”

Alex’s great-grandfather had 17 siblings. He was displaced from his family when he was taken to a boarding school – never to be reunited. As a result, her family lost a great deal of their cultural heritage and traditions; Alex knows very little about her native language, songs, dances, or traditional medicines because her great-grandfather was deprived of his cultural identity.

Instead of a rich sense of cultural identity, the historical trauma of Alex’s great-grandfather’s experiences were passed down through her aunts, uncles and mother. For Alex, home visiting support provided a way to heal from this generational pain by offering resources to traditional activities and connection to a shared community. Home visiting helped Alex find a new sense of hope and resiliency. In realizing that she was experiencing the collective intergenerational trauma of losing language, culture and identity, Alex now has a path forward for her family and tools to support other families experiencing generational trauma.

Alex’s great-grandfather, George Nix, was Alaska’s first professional football player (1926)

Near@Home is a great resource to help home visitors have difficult conversations, particularly when reflecting on times of trauma. When home visitors are equipped with tools to tackle difficult conversations, they can safely, respectfully and effectively discuss ACES (adverse childhood experiences), trauma, and other hard topics with parents by focusing on hope, respect and resilience.

Communities of Practice for Home Visitors

Communities of practice are another support Start Early Washington facilitates for home visiting professionals. Our community of practice, “Supporting Native Families,” aims to provide opportunities for professionals to understand tribal communities better and walk away with strategies and ideas to better serve Native families in Washington.

Washington state is home to 29 federally recognized tribes. Each tribal nation is uniquely different, including the size of the reservation, number of citizens and financial resources. Similarly, they each have unique cultural identifiers and shared experiences.

With this in mind, there’s a lot for home visitors to learn when engaging with Native families. Families feel more connected and appreciate when home visitors make the time to understand family culture and dynamics.

“I think all home visitors want to achieve that goal — to understand each member of the family. But when families know that someone wants to learn about their culture and identity, when someone takes an interest in what’s important to the family and genuinely supports the caregiver and child — that’s empowering.” – Alex

Visit our page to learn more about home visiting work in Washington and supports provided by Start Early Washington’s home visiting team.

(Photo Credit: Erica Hallock)

2022 General Election

What do we know so far? While the news is predominantly focused on national races, we are closely following the results here in Washington state. With an entirely vote-by-mail system in our state, it can take days to know the outcomes, especially if a large number of voters submitted their ballots on election day.

The Washington state Secretary of State has a website where you can track the results of federal, state and local races. The website notes when updated numbers are due to be released, voter turnout and the number of ballots counted as well as those left to be counted. County officials certify their results on Nov. 29 and the Secretary of State will certify final results by Dec. 8.

What are we watching? As a reminder, the current breakdown of the Washington State Legislature sits at 28 Democrats and 21 Republicans in the State Senate and 57 Democrats and 41 Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Roughly 24 hours after the release of the first results, here are the initial takeaways:

Tight Races. As of 5 p.m. Nov. 9, the tightest contests can be found in the following races:

  • 10th Legislative District, position one (Island County and parts of Skagit and Snohomish counties): Democratic challenger Clyde Shavers leads Republican incumbent Greg Gilday 53%-47%
  • 26th Legislative District (parts of Kitsap and Pierce counties): State Senate Democratic Incumbent Emily Randall holds a 52%-48% lead over Republican challenger Jesse Young and, to fill Rep. Young’s open House seat, Democrat Adison Richards leads Republican Spencer Hutchins 51%-49%
  • 42nd Legislative District (parts of Whatcom County): all of the Democratic candidates hold slim leads over their Republican challengers. State Senate candidate Democrat Sharon Shewmake is leading the incumbent Republican Simon Sefnik 51%-49%. In the House of Representatives position one, incumbent Democrat Alicia Rule holds a 52%-48% lead over Republican challenger Tawsha Thompson. And, finally, in the open House of Representatives position two race, Democrat Jim Timmons holds a 51%-49% lead over Republican Dan Johnson.

Vulnerable Incumbents. Initial results indicate four Republican incumbents may be vulnerable. This includes:

  • Republican Rob Chase in the 4th District (parts of Spokane County) is trailing his Republican challenger Leonard Christian 51%-47%
  • As noted above, Republican Incumbent Greg Gilday is trailing his Democratic Challenger in the House of Representatives position one seat
  • In the 39th District (parts of King, Skagit and Snohomish counties), Republican Incumbent Robert Sutherland is trailing his Republican challenger Sam Low by a wide margin of 55%-42%
  • Republican Incumbent Simon Sefnik, who was appointed to fill the term of the late Senator Doug Ericksen in the 42nd District, is trailing Democratic challenger Sharon Shewmake by 51%-49%

As more votes come in, these results could change.

Whatcom County Early Learning Initiative. Initial results show that the Whatcom County’s Children Initiative is failing 51%-49%.

Stay tuned for another “Notes” focused on election results.

Capital Gains Tax Status Update

The Washington State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of a capital gains tax Jan. 26, 2023. Oral arguments will be held in Tumwater because the Temple of Justice, where the Court usually meets, is closed for a two-year renovation.

On March 1, 2022, Douglas County Superior Court judge Brian Huber ruled the capital gains tax unconstitutional. Following this action, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson asked the state Supreme Court to accept the case on direct appeal, to which the Supreme Court agreed.

On Nov. 3, Attorney General Ferguson filed a motion with the Supreme Court asking the Court to allow the state’s Department of Revenue (DOR) to start collecting the tax before the Court makes its final ruling. DOR is currently pursuing rule-making related to tax collections. The Court will consider the Attorney General’s motion at a conference on Nov. 29.

As a reminder, the capital gains tax is intended to provide significant funding for early learning and the Fair Start for Kids Act, specifically. This Start Early Washington resource identifies investments in the Fair Start for Kids Act that were initially supported with short-term federal COVID-19 dollars with the intent for capital gains tax revenue to serve as the funding source once the short-term federal funds conclude.

Fair Start for Kids Act Resource

As we prepare to enter another two-year budget development process (one with a tightening fiscal picture), Start Early Washington put together a resource laying out which budgetary components of the Fair Start for Kids Act are laid out in statute and which are deemed “subject to appropriations.”

It is important to remember the funding of all policies is ultimately determined through the budget process, and while it is preferable to have specific funding levels set out in statute, the Legislature can change statute to fund at a different level – or not at all.

This resource breaks down which parts of the Fair Start for Kids Act are in statute, which are subject to appropriation and what this all means.

State Budget Preparations

Our last couple of “Notes From Olympia” have focused on summarizing the budget requests (known as decision packages) submitted by the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) to the Governor’s Office of Financial Management (OFM) for inclusion in the Governor’s budget. Additional resources are available through DCYF’s Government Affairs webpage which has been updated to include summaries of some of the agency’s decision packages.

Staff at OFM are busy reviewing and building the Governor’s budget which is expected to be released around mid-December. The state’s next revenue forecast will be released Nov. 18. The status of the state’s revenue picture will impact what is (and is not) included in the Governor’s budget proposal. The last revenue forecast in September projected a sharp decline in available revenue for the upcoming 2023-25 biennium. Many eyes will be on the Nov. 18 revenue forecast to see if the projection continues to decrease.

On Nov. 4, the state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council met to receive an economic review from the state’s economist, Dr. Steve Lerch. Not surprisingly, most of Dr. Lerch’s report focused on concerns about the potential for an upcoming recession and the impacts of high inflation on our state’s economy.

Legislative Committee Days

Each year in late November/early December, the Legislature holds “Committee Days,” where members of the existing committees meet and hold work sessions on issues likely to garner attention in the upcoming legislative session. The event is timed to occur before the “legislative session freeze” commences, wherein elected officials are barred from fundraising. This means that committee days also include a hearty number of evening fundraisers.

This year, the Senate and House of Representatives are scheduled to meet Dec. 1 and 2 in person, and the two days are jam-packed with legislative committee work sessions. I view this as a test to gauge how ill-prepared I am for a return to walking on marble, dressing professionally and being social for an extended period of time. (High likelihood I will fail this test.)

Of note for early learning, the House Children, Youth and Families Committee will hold a work session at 1 p.m. on Dec. 1 focusing exclusively on early learning recruitment issues. Also on Dec. 1, the Senate Ways and Means Committee will hold a work session at 3:30 p.m. that looks at the state’s revenue and economic picture as well as implementation of the state’s COVID-19 recovery plan including a segment on how child care providers utilized stabilization funds. Finally, the first will also include a work session for the House Appropriations Committee that includes a 2023 Session Budget Preview.

While Committee Days will see a return to in-person work, TVW will continue to stream all the committee meetings, so you can catch them live or by accessing the media archives at tvw.org. It is important to note that unlike committee hearings, work session presenters are by invite-only, so the public cannot testify during these committee day activities. However, when the legislative committees pivot to bill hearings come January, public testimony will be back, and work is underway to continue to incorporate the availability of virtual testimony.

Child Care Center Coming to Capitol Campus

This fall, the state’s Department of Enterprise Services announced it selected KinderCare Learning Centers to operate the second child care center in Olympia to serve state employees and their families. Located right across from the Capitol campus at Maple Park Avenue SW and Capitol Way South, the center hopes to open soon and will serve children from six weeks to five years old.

I saw the center recently in Olympia and it looks ready to welcome children!

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There’s been a national discussion about increasing our aptitude in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)/science technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). America is underperforming other industrial nations, and these areas are increasingly playing a critical role in career success.

Much of the conversation focuses on improvements in the middle and high school years. But we can begin building STEM/STEAM skills much earlier than that—as soon as a child starts speaking.

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Some young children are innately interested in: learning how things work, building things and taking things apart. But all children can be enticed into STEM/STEAM learning through whatever they’re already interested in. Both STEM and STEAM support play, wonder and curiosity; but STEAM includes an art component that allows children to create and design with intention. STEM and STEAM encourage children to solve problems by using inquiry and investigation.

Since young children tend to ask lots of questions, you can introduce STEM/STEAM basics by following these simple “CHIA” steps:

  • Curiosity: “So glad you asked!”
  • Hypothesis: “Why don’t you make a guess?”
  • Investigation: “Let’s look into it!”
  • Analysis: “Why do you think that happened?”

Before beginning any activity with your toddler, ask them what they think is going to happen. Then ask why they think that. They’ve just created a hypothesis and given their logic for that hypothesis—the foundation of all scientific exploration. By then creating experiments with your toddler and talking about what you observe, you’re setting them up to plan, brainstorm, build, and solve problems exactly like scientists and engineers do.

Ideas for You and Your Child:

  1. Build a ramp for toy cars to roll down. Have your toddler race two cars down the ramp. Ask them to predict which one will get to the bottom first. Then have them play with how to make the cars faster or slower. For example, if you put a small stone on the car, does it make it go faster? Buildable toys provide great opportunities for experimentation. What happens to the speed when your toddler makes the car bigger, heavier, or longer? This is experimentation, and it’s fun!
  2. When you go for a walk, you can guide the conversation, or let your child come up with their own experiments. If you see an animal, play with how softly you can talk before the animal notices you. Or ask your child why the squirrels race around the tree. Right answers are not the goal—this is about asking questions and predicting the answer.

Remember that it’s okay for both you and your child to answer “I don’t know” to any question. It’s asking the question that’s important because that is where all science begins.

STEAM At-Home Activity: Building Structures

While at home, parents can introduce building structures with their children. The materials for this activity consist of wide popsicle sticks, clear plastic drinking cups and small cube blocks. Parents can encourage their child to build a structure while engaging in conversation about how many cups will it take to build the structure. What will happen if you use fewer cups and more popsicle sticks? How high can you build? The children can learn about balance, height, measurement and a host of wonderful things. This at-home activity needs little to no planning, but a readiness to think outside of the box.

Don’t underestimate the incredible thinking skills that young children have. With just a playful shift in word choice, we can allow for a dramatic shift in getting our babies ready for a STEM/STEAM education!

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Playing pretend with your child might seem silly at times, but it’s actually pretty serious business when it comes to learning. Whether you’re new to playing dress up or having a pretend concert in your kitchen, or you are looking for more ways to spark your child’s imagination, we have tips for you!

We asked our Start Early experts for advice for parents and caregivers on the best ways to support your child’s learning and development through imaginative play, and they delivered.

Check out what Melissa Spivey, Teacher Assistant at Educare Chicago, a program of Start Early shared when it comes to making imaginative play a fun part of your everyday routine.

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Check out Melissa’s tips: 

What is Imaginative Play?

Imaginative play is playing pretend. Imaginative play is important for young children, as it not only builds character, but also helps adults understand children’s perspective and how they view and take in the world around them. When caregivers understand a child’s perspective, caregivers can be a better resources for them.

Why is Imaginative Play Important?

Many times, adults thinks that imaginative play is just for the children, when in fact it is for everyone. During imaginative play, you get to be anyone, anything, be any place and experience life outside of reality. During imaginative play you get to be free.
Through imaginative play children learn critical thinking skills, how to follow simple directions, build expressive and receptive language, increase social skills and learn how manage their emotions.

While children can handle exploring imaginative play alone with their thoughts and experiences, caregivers can play a key role in helping scaffold a child’s development. For example, imaginative play might begin with you and your child and just a baby doll. The caregiver plays the role in adding words or actions to the play such as do you think your baby is hungry? That will prompt the child to feed the baby. Now we have a baby and food. Next, the caregiver might say, the baby made a mess with the food, what do you think we should do? This question prompts the child to think whether to clean the baby by washing the baby or just changing the baby’s clothes. Another example, the caregiver can say, “I think I smell something, could it be your baby?” This will prompt the child to smell the baby and change. Now we, have a baby, food and a diaper.

How to Incorporate Imaginative Play at Home?

Incorporating imaginative play into your routine at home helps promote the parent-child relationship. Since bath time is already a routine for children, caregivers can add imaginative play to bath time. Adding imaginative play to bath time can be done by simply adding items such as a baby doll, small cars or cups from the kitchen. Washing the baby can help children identify different body parts and understand the difference between clean and dirty, while adding vocabulary words such as wash, soap, towel, water, clean, dirty. The same as washing the cars, children get a sense of how cars are changing from dirty to clean. For the cups, children can experience filling and dumping the water in and out of the cup. Adding vocabulary words such as filling, dumping, full, and empty. Remember imaginative play can be planned or spontaneous.

Easy activities for home

  • Singing Concert
    • Materials needed: any safe objects like wooden spoons or pots and pans to use while you and your child sing and dance to their favorite song.
  • Baby doll playtime
    • Materials needed: a baby doll or soft stuffed item.
  • Bus stop
    • Materials needed: a chair, the couch and paper to use as money.

Tips for Halloween

When it comes to celebrating Halloween, children have the opportunity to live out their imaginative play fantasy by dressing up and becoming their favorite tv character. When picking costumes this holiday season, caregivers should become knowledge of the character that their children pick so that they can ask questions to keep the playing and learning going.

If you are going treat or treat, remember before leaving the house to give your child rules that they must follow while out in the public so that they can play safely. Giving your child the rules before leaving shows you are trusting them to be responsible. For example, caregivers can use character as the example on how following rules is important. For example, “I am expecting you to be a responsible superhero.” Or when the child is doing something outside of the rules, caregivers could say, “I wonder what will Spiderman do if his mother saw him doing that?

If the weather is too hot/cold/rainy for Trick or Treating this Halloween, you can still incorporate dressing up and imaginative play in other ways to still enjoy Halloween:

  • District Park Halloween party
  • Neighborhood Truck trick or treat
  • Family Bowling night with character
  • Family party at home (dress up)
  • Movie night with the family watching Halloween movie
  • Cooking with family

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Each year the Illinois General Assembly passes legislation that can have an impact on families, or the organizations in our communities providing early childhood or related supportive services to families. Start Early leads on some of these legislative changes, often in coalition with others, and in other cases we contribute our early childhood lens and expertise to support the efforts of another lead organization. The 2022 Legislative Summary provides a listing of those bills that became law in the spring 2022 session that we thought would be relevant to families with young children and the field.  We hope that this is a resource you will download and share with colleagues and families alike. We are happy to provide additional information about any of these initiatives or connect you with other advocates where needed. Initiatives that were led by Start Early are marked *. 

The 2022 Illinois Policy Accomplishments report details progress we helped the state achieve toward advancing our Illinois Policy Agenda. In some places, Start Early may have led a charge, in other places we contributed research and advocacy to help advance shared goals of many stakeholders. While many challenges remain to be solved in our fragmented early learning system, this year’s report details the many ways that tangible progress is being made to improve the experience of families and children and providers.

2022 Illinois Policy Accomplishments

Download Our Accomplishments Document

In Illinois, Start Early engages on a variety of topics of importance to the well-being of expecting families, infants, toddlers, their families and professionals who support their healthy development.

Advocating with state agencies, elected officials, and working in partnership with providers, fellow advocates and parents, we work to advance our Illinois Policy Agenda. Work is currently underway for a refresh of our policy agenda to reflect our priorities for the next four years. More updates to come on this exciting work underway at Start Early.

We are excited to publish and offer two new resources relating to policy changes and progress toward longer-term changes that were achieved in Fiscal Year 22.

Fisal Year 2022 Legislative Summary

Noteworthy developments in early childhood policy in Illinois

Learn More

Fiscal Year 2022 Illinois Policy Team Accomplishments

Advancements of efforts represented in our Illinois Policy Agenda

Learn More

One key to our work is that we not only work to pass laws and increase funding, but we also follow-up on those changes and engage on the decisions made by our state agencies as they implement early learning and related programs. We achieve this through advising on implementation of new ideas or program changes, recommending priorities for funding, both in work directly with state agency leaders and at key advisory bodies like the Early Learning Council and Child Care Advisory Council, among others. We share our priorities and undertake policy analysis research and recommendations to support the state in advancing more equitable opportunities for families to access early education and the related services so critical to healthy child development and strong families.

We hope that these documents help early childhood programs, other community-based organizations serving families and anyone else who values these kinds of services and support to become more aware of changes that were passed or implemented in the past fiscal year.

As work is already underway on the current Fiscal Year, including planning for the upcoming spring session of the Illinois General Assembly, and as we develop our next multi-year policy agenda, we look forward to keeping you posted.

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Our Capitol Ambassador Ollie eagerly awaits the return of people.
(Photo Credit: Erica Hallock)

As we get further into fall, we see an uptick in activity that will influence the 2023 legislative session. Of course, one of the biggest influencers will be the Nov. 8 General Election and the subsequent leadership and legislative committee assignment decisions. Be on the lookout for a detailed analysis of upcoming changes following the election. In the meantime, this edition features timely updates.

Legislative Work Sessions

As part of the gear-up for the 2023 legislative session, legislative committees held a number of work sessions in the last few weeks. An interesting aspect of the preelection meetings is they include the sitting lawmakers, some of whom may not be returning in 2023.

Senate Ways and Means Committee

On Sept. 27, the Senate Ways and Means held the first in-person committee meeting since March 2020. I think it would be fair to say both lawmakers and audience members were excited to be back together.

Among the agenda items was a presentation by State Auditor staff regarding the audit of the state’s receipt and usage of federal dollars. It is not a surprise to see this review given that the state received billions of federal dollars to address pandemic-related items.

Of note for early learning, the State Auditor representatives discussed their finding that $293.2 million of the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant funds were “unauditable” due to the Department of Children, Youth and Families’ accounting practices which limited the State Auditor’s ability to access the level of detail needed to determine if funds were spent appropriately.

Following the State Auditor staff’s presentation, DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter responded (starting at around 1:30), noting that DCYF’s current Information Technology system needs an update to provide the level of detail required for more detailed auditing. Importantly, Secretary Hunter emphasized that DCYF did not receive any significant findings related to eligibility determination.

Secretary Hunter committed to working with the State Auditor; his agency submitted a decision package to provide the Information Technology investment needed to support the requested level of accounting detail.

House Children, Youth and Families Committee

On Oct. 11, the House Children, Youth and Families Committee held a work session focused on:

Each of the presentations linked above contain excellent background and data on the various programs, and the meeting video is worth a watch. The work session highlighted not only general confusion over the varying goals and target populations for the programs, but also the challenge for families in securing needed supports and care. We can expect these conversations to continue into the legislative session.

Joint Committee on Employment Relations

You are probably wondering why an early learning related newsletter includes an update about a rather obscure legislative committee related to state employment. I actually have a good answer for that!

The Oct. 13 meeting of this Joint Committee received an update detailing the estimated costs and themes of the various collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). This bargaining not only involves state employees but also includes higher education employees, state and K-12 education health care expenses and non-state employee groups of family child care, adult family home and language access providers. These collective bargaining agreements will be included in the 2023-25 biennial budget and with the state’s revenue picture tightening (See Sept. 29 Notes From Olympia), the price tag of these agreements will impact the availability of funding for other investments.

In short, the estimated costs of all the CBAs totals $2.24 billion, with $1.401 billion of that amount from the state General Fund. Like nearly every other sector, state government is challenged to recruit and retain its broad and diverse workforce. These agreements aim to address staffing shortages – especially in high priority areas such as hospitals, ferries and state institutions – by providing overall wage increases, various retention bonuses and premium pay/lump-sum payments for employees working in institutions and other high-risk positions.

Family Child Care Providers. As noted above, the state also bargains with Family Child Care providers and that agreement totals $217 million from the state General Fund to support 3,612 providers. This agreement increases the cost-of-care rate to $2100/month for providers accepting subsidy; increases the Working Connections Child Care subsidy rate to the 85th percentile of the 2021 market rate survey; removes the cost of background checks; and increases the hourly rate for Family Friend and Neighbor providers from $3.00 to $3.85 as of July 1, 2023 and up to an hourly rate of $4.00 on July 1, 2024.

What Comes Next? Following the November Economic and Revenue Forecast, the Director of the Office of Financial Management will make a “financial feasibility determination” (meaning – can the state afford these agreements?). After that decision, the agreements will be included in the Governor’s proposed budget, and then the decision moves to the legislative arena. Note that collective bargaining agreements are given an “up or down” vote. This is one of the few areas where the Legislature does not negotiate nor get the opportunity to make changes.

Minimum Wage Increasing January 2023

On Sept. 30, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries announced the hourly minimum wage will increase to $15.74 as of January 2023. This represents an hourly increase of $1.25, or 8.66%.

The 2016 initiative approved by Washington state voters calls for the Department of Labor and Industries to adjust the hourly minimum wage based on changes to the Consumer Price Index. With this increase, Washington will have the highest state minimum wage in the country.

Updated Summary of Decision Packages

Start Early Washington recently updated its summary document detailing early learning related decision packages submitted to the Office of Financial Management for consideration in the Governor’s 2023-25 biennial budget. The update includes a $5.046 million Capital Budget request from the Department of Commerce to support facility costs for early learning programs at six school districts. Our Sept. 30 Notes From Olympia contains more detail on the decision package process.

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When a young student began drawing pictures using only black crayons, it caught the attention of veteran early childhood educator Alyia Dixon.

“Kids always gravitate to the brighter colors,” Alyia says. “But when she was scribbling, she scribbled her pictures all in black… Sometimes all black, all the way to the edge of the pages.”

Alyia, who has been teaching at Educare Chicago, a program of Start Early, for 23 years, shared her observations and concerns with the school’s family support specialists, and together, they arranged a visit to the student’s home. These sorts of discussions are critical for providing families with a multi-perspective and multi-expertise support system. This holistic approach is a core component of high-quality early childhood programs. It provides valuable support for students and can help connect their families to important resources.

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“We did a home visit and found out that her lights were out… That’s why she was drawing all in black,” Alyia explains. “After we realized that, we talked about things you could do in the dark, you know, to try to lessen the negativity behind having the lights out.”

The Educare Chicago team realized during the home visit that the family was living with relatives, and that they would be best suited for success if they had their own apartment.

The school’s family support specialists worked with the student’s mother to help her obtain her own housing and connected her with utility payment assistance programs.

At Start Early, we believe that parents are a child’s first educators, which is why we prioritize family engagement in our early learning programs. Family engagement in early education is particularly important for children and families in communities that are under-resourced, in that it helps create consistency between the home and school environments. The positive outcomes of engaged parents are powerful: increased support for children’s learning at home, empowered parents and improved family well-being.

When Alyia reconnected with the family several years later, she discovered that they were still successfully living on their own.

“We were talking and she brought up how embarrassed she had been during that home visit,” Alyia says. “But, she said, ‘We only had candles and you acted like it was nothing. That took away the sting of it… I knew then that it was going to be all right.’”

Teacher and student posting for photo in school library

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For 40 years, Start Early has provided doula, home visiting and Head Start programs while advocating for policies and adequate funding to make high-quality early education programs, like Educare Chicago, available in communities across the country. Supporting our vital work ensures that teachers like Alyia have the resources needed to support young children and their families in powerful and life-changing ways.

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The supports available through our high-quality early childhood programs don’t just provide for the needs of students while they’re in the classroom; they also address challenges at home that could keep a student from thriving in pre-kindergarten and beyond.

“A lot of the circumstances we witness go way above and beyond the norms for what a teacher is supposed to encounter,” Alyia says.

That’s why high-quality early childhood programs often rely on experts that can help families connect with mental health resources, find safe housing and obtain food assistance. At Educare Chicago, family support specialists and mental health consultants work diligently with parents to ensure the needs of their entire family are being met.

Additionally, our programs connect parents of young children with their peers, creating supportive communities that benefit both adults and their kids.

“Our parents build relationships with other adults that they maintain outside of Educare Chicago. We’ve had a few parents that built relationships where they would take their kids on outings with each other,” Alyia says. “They’re building relationships and making connections that will outlast their child’s time in our program.”

The Capitol campus on a gorgeous September morning.
(Photo Credit: Erica Hallock)

A Reminder …

Start Early Washington publishes “Notes From Olympia” periodically throughout the legislative interim. This edition focuses on recently released state agency “decision packages,” a state revenue update and workforce challenges.

State Agency Decision Packages

Each September, state agencies submit decision packages detailing budget requests to the Governor’s Office of Financial Management (OFM). These decision packages (or “DPs” as commonly known) are used to build the Governor’s proposed budget that will be released in mid-to-late December. See Start Early Washington’s August 25, Notes From Olympia for further discussion on the DP process.

OFM established a dedicated website where every agency DP can be downloaded. Unfortunately, this website is clunky at best, and downloading each DP can be extremely time consuming (my grumbling may have been heard statewide).

Thankfully, the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) has been transparent about their DPs. They have held multiple stakeholder feedback sessions as their DPs were under development as well as a webinar to answer questions once the DPs were uploaded on the OFM website.

A full summary of the DPs most relevant for early learning issues is on our website. A few items of note:

  • Looking across the variety of state agency DPs (broader than early learning), common themes emerge. These themes include advancing equity, providing direct funding to BIPOC-led organizations, targeted support to BIPOC and rural communities and increasing support to families (particularly in substance use disorder treatment services) to prevent out-of-home placement in the child welfare system.
  • State law requires the adoption of four-year balanced budgets, so many of the DPs not only include requested spending for the upcoming 2023-25 biennium, but also for the subsequent biennium for state Fiscal Years 2025-27.
  • You may find that not all the numbers add up perfectly in the finalized DPs, and that’s okay.
  • DCYF organized many of their DPs into themes (e.g., Prevention, Child Care Access and Affordability), so their number of DPs is smaller than most other state agencies, but the grouped DPs often contain a larger number of requests. DCYF’s early learning budget requests total more than $1 billion in new funding for the 2023-25 biennium.

As the DP list is so long this year, we’ve summarized an analysis on our resource page. If you have a deep interest in a particular item, I recommend reading the DP as they include cost modeling and further explanation and detail. Feel free to reach out if you have questions or would like help navigating OFM’s unwieldy website.

State Revenue Update

On Sept. 21, the Washington State Economic and Revenue Council met to receive an update on the latest revenue figures from the state’s economist Dr. Steve Lerch.

In the current 2021-23 biennium, revenue is projected to exceed the June forecast by $43 million, bringing the 2021-23 budget to $65.999 billion.

For the upcoming 2023-25 biennium that begins July 1, 2023, revenue is projected to decline from the June forecast by $495 million. Even with this projected decrease, the 2023-25 budget is projected to exceed the 2021-23 budget by $2.313 billion, with a projected biennial budget of $65.504 billion for 2023-25.

You may be asking, what is contributing to the slowing revenue? It comes down to three primary challenges:

  1. Decreasing personal income is leading to slower retail sales.
  2. Washington construction is slowing at a rate faster than projected.
  3. Interest rate hikes are slowing real estate activity, impacting real estate tax collections.

Finally, there was apparently a significant Board of Tax Appeal decision that reduced expected revenue in 2023-25 by $117 million.

A reporter asked the Governor’s Budget Director David Schumacher how the slowing revenue projections would impact the budget Governor Inslee will release in December. Director Schumacher responded by noting the Legislature left a healthy reserve that should help mitigate the blow of federal stimulus dollars concluding.

Per state budget documents, the Legislature left an ending fund balance of $789M for the 2021-23 biennium and $83M for the 2023-25 biennium. Additionally, of the $4.428 billion the state received and deposited into the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund (CSFRF) in the State Treasury, $3.151 billion was appropriated ($1.0 billion in the transportation budget; $400 million in the capital budget; and $1.75 billion in the operating budget). The remaining $1.277 billion was not appropriated and remains available for use.

The next revenue forecast will be released Nov. 18. These numbers will inform the Governor’s budget.

State Employee Workforce

The word of the year is workforce, particularly in the health and human services sectors. Looking through the agency DPs, you can see efforts to increase contracts and provide wage adjustments to help with staffing critical jobs ranging from child care to ECEAP to nursing home staff to behavioral health staff.

At the Sept. 15 DCYF Oversight Board meeting, DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter discussed his agency’s efforts to address recruitment and retention. (Secretary Hunter’s remarks begin around the 2:00 mark). He noted this is a challenge crossing all state agencies as they face competition from the private sector, with compensation being the largest barrier. Secretary Hunter acknowledged this workforce issue extends to DCYF’s contracted partners.

For DCYF, Secretary Hunter noted the emotionally and physically difficult work in all its programs, especially with the acuity of youth served in juvenile rehabilitation. A particular challenge for state agencies is in the Information Technology (IT) sphere, with the average age of state employee IT staff exceeding 50 years of age. IT is an area where the private sector is more lucrative.

Secretary Hunter also noted the importance of offering a career pathway for his agency’s employees and highlighted the magnitude of change the agency employees have undergone, starting with the creation of the new agency, navigating a pandemic and implementing multiple new laws and policies.

A few days after Secretary Hunter’s presentation, the Spokesman Review reported on a tentative deal between the state and its largest public employee union, the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE). The agreement includes a 4% wage increase in SFY 23 and a 3% increase in SFY 24, a $1000 bonus for receiving a COVID-19 booster shot and a $1000 retention bonus for current employees who stay employed on July 1, 2023.

While no cost estimate has been made public yet, WFSE said this is the largest compensation increase in the union’s history. But, first, the agreement needs to be approved by the state and the union, and then it will go to the Legislature, where an up or down vote would approve it. This is one of many Collective Bargaining Agreements the state is negotiating.

I raise this agreement because it will likely result in a significant price tag and, with slowing state revenues, competition for resources will be great. The policy question of workforce may be THE issue facing lawmakers when they gather in Olympia on January 9, 2023. Without people to perform mission critical work, the state will be challenged in serving Washingtonians in many areas.

What Will the 2023 Legislative Session Look Like?

While there has not been formal communication about the structure of the 2023 legislative session, we will likely see a return to in-person campus activity with continued ability to participate virtually.

The House of Representatives sent out communication last week stating that its December committee meetings will be in-person, with its hearing rooms equipped for hybrid participation and the Senate is holding work sessions this week from hearing rooms (with hybrid participation).

More to come …

Hello from my friend Ollie. He gets very happy when his human takes him for walks on the Capitol campus. He’s kindly offered to show us interesting spots when trivia resumes in January. (Photo Credit: Ollie’s mom, Pam Toal)

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