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Washington State Early-Ed. Bill Passes, Funding Debate Continues

A bill to expand early-learning opportunities in Washington state has passed both the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House there, but the debate over how much to spend on the measure is far from over.

The $38 billion proposed Senate state budget funds less than half of what advocates say is needed for all aspects of the bill to be put into effect, according to a spokesperson for Children's Alliance, a Seattle-based organization advocating for early-childhood programs. The $39 billion proposed House budget includes full funding for the Early Start Act.

One of the primary changes the bill would enact would be to allow low-income working families receiving a child-care subsidy to continue receiving that subsidy for 12 months even if their income has risen in the meantime. That provision is at the heart of the difference between the two budget proposals (on the early education side, anyway).

The House budget would allocate $114.5 million to the early care and education programs outlined by the Early Start bill, and the Senate budget would allocate $49.4 million.

"Both budgets invest in quality improvements to child care and early learning. The House invests more, largely by allowing families to maintain child care for a continuous 12 months to provide stability for parents and children," according to the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, a Seattle-based state policy analysis group. 

Right now, families risk losing their child-care subsidy if their income rises above 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $3,926 a month for a family of four. If children have to change child-care providers as a result, it can be a disruption that affects learning and development, advocates for the new law say.

How much of a difference this bill makes in Washington will depend largely on how well it's funded. Provisions that would broaden the quality measurement system and require full-day state preschool aren't free, either.

The legislative session in Washington is scheduled to end on April 26.

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