While the Washington State Constitution (Article IX) states that “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex,” early childhood education has not been considered part of the definition of basic education.
According to the League of Education Voters, while as a state we spend about $500 million on average for each grade of K-12, we spend only $14 million dollars in state funds for each age group from birth to 5 years old on child care and early learning. When federal dollars are added, that increases to $39 million for each year.
Fortunately for our youngest children, the federal government is making a push to support the improvement of early childhood care and education. Through the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant the federal government is making $500 million dollars available to nine winning states. Washington state was one of those nine.
This grant will provide Washington with around $60 million over four years, the primary purpose of which is to support the roll-out of a Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System (TQRIS).
A TQRIS system contains several components under its umbrella. It is designed to clearly identify what quality looks like in licensed child care centers, licensed family homes and other early learning settings. Assessment tools are used to measure child outcomes, child care provider interactions with children, and the quality of the learning environment. Supports for training and coaching are provided. Additional supports and incentives are given to facilities. Ratings are established based on the assessment and made available to parents and communities.
The Department of Early Learning has shifted funding from many of the quality activities it has undertaken in previous years to supplement the roll-out of TQRIS. About $42 million of the federal grant will go towards quality improvement awards, training hub incentives, program evaluation, rating and monitoring, training, coaching and technical assistance.
Additional elements of the grant will support state-wide expansion of the kindergarten assessment by paying for teacher training elements and providing incentives for child care providers that already have or who gain specific levels of higher education.
Race to the top will give Washington state a much needed boost in creating an integrated system of early care and education. Perhaps that will provide some of the impetus for making a stronger commitment to funding high quality early learning programs and professionals.