Child Care Access and Quality Shows Continued Improvement in New Study

May 16, 2024
Woman with long, dark hair sits at desk engaging with four young girls in child care classroom.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recently published its 2023 State of Preschool Yearbook. The annual report shows Washington making positive strides in child care access and quality.

"The findings from this report exemplify our state’s commitment to providing access to high-quality early learning opportunities for all children,” said Nicole Rose, Assistant Secretary of Early Learning at DCYF.

Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) in Washington continues to meet 9 of 10 quality standard benchmarks. The NIEER report showed only 13 programs across the U.S. doing the same. 

Washington Highlights from the 2023 State of Preschool Yearbook 

  • There were 21,052 enrolled in state-funded preschool, between ECEAP and Transition to Kindergarten – an increase of 2,920.
  • There was $251 million in state spending for preschool programs – an increase of more than $100 million. 
  • Washington was ranked fifth in the nation for state spending per child.

Our Commitment to Improvement

Washington’s access to quality preschool services falls below other states. Only 16% of 4-year-olds, and 8% of 3-year-olds, are served, respectively. We are committed to expanding access, as shown below:

  • ECEAP added 800 more slots during the 2022-23 school year and another 500 in 2023-24, as well as 1,000 part-day to school-day conversions. In 2022-23, a 1.6% slot rate increase also took effect. In 2023-24, contractors received additional increases: 18% for school-day slots; 9% for working-day slots; and 7% for part-day slots. The state also funded 178 Early ECEAP slots for children Birth to 3 after the Preschool Development Grant Birth to 5 grant ended in December 2022.
  • DCYF is working with partners to make ECEAP an entitlement program by the 2026-27 school year. This means all eligible early learners will be entitled to an ECEAP slot.
  • The legislature funded $7 million for the Tribal Early Learning Fund, which supports the provision of inclusive and culturally appropriate services to Tribal children. 
  • In 2021-22, income eligibility was expanded. How income eligibility is measured changed from Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to State Median Income (SMI). Eligibility will expand again in 2030-31. 
  • DCYF and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) have identified ways to improve alignment of high-quality preschool programs across the two agencies and increase equitable access to preschool.

Read the full Washington profile report to learn more.

A History of Action for Quality Early Care and Education   

DCYF has a goal to ensure that 80% of Washington’s children are ready for kindergarten. ECEAP is a large part of DCYF’s strategy to accomplish this goal.

The Fair Start for Kids Act (FSKA), which passed in 2021, invested more than $1 billion in early care and education. An additional 4,000 families have been served, and 6,800 additional children have benefitted from child care subsidies. Eligibility was expanded, and access to affordable, high-quality child care increased, for more than 8,000 additional families. These families can now participate in Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) or ECEAP. Because of FSKA, WCCC now serves roughly 43,000 children.    

Providing choice is important as needs and situations are different from family to family. It is the core value of a “mixed-delivery system.” Washington’s mixed-delivery system will include 2,500 new ECEAP pre-k slots with expanded eligibility, dual language, and equity grants, non-workday slots, care for infants, and increased stability for vulnerable families and children, including those without housing.

Read our Historical Investments in Child Care Quality and Access publication to learn more.