Deck the halls
At its last meeting of the year, the Quality Education Council (QEC) agreed to forward two major recommendations to the Legislature for the 2012 session, as well as provide a status report on recommendations it presented in 2011.
In the wake of an announcement that Washington state had won a Race to the Top grant for early learning of $60 million, the QEC will recommend the 2012 Legislature establish a new, voluntary preschool program with expanded eligibility and modified program components. The plan would be to phase in preschool for all by the 2024-2025 school year, making it an entitlement from that point forward.
The program builds on existing programs – federal Head Start and the state’s Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP) – as well as the variety of preschool programs across the state.
Rather than being limited by caps set for Head Start and ECEAP, the new program would be for all three and four-year-old children. Families with incomes above 250 percent of the federal poverty-level would pay a co-payment, with the amount set by the state Department of Early Learning (DEL).
Other major components of the expanded preschool program would include:
· A minimum of 450 classroom hours to qualify.
· Class size limits of 18 children per class, with a teacher/child ratio of 1:9.
· Coordination of child health services (e.g., mental, physical) but not health care benefits.
· Transportation costs as an eligible expenditure by the provider.
· Provider qualifications and readiness assessments.
· Data tracking for evidence-based accountability.
In addition to giving DEL administrative, rule-making and reporting responsibilities to implement the new program, the recommendations address early learning teacher qualifications. Initial recommendations from the Early Learning Workgroup (set up in ESHB 2261) would have required a bachelor’s degree for all lead teachers and a two-year degree for other instructors.
The QEC agreed with a recommendation from the Early Learning Advisory Council (ELAC) that a BA requirement in the first few years might keep some providers from participating. The compromise was to ask DEL to convene an early learning subcommittee that will report back to the QEC and Legislature by June 30, 2012, with a phase-in requirement for a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or equivalent.
With a nod at the research regarding brain development in infants and toddlers, the QEC also will recommend a concurrent phase-in of high-quality preschool readiness programs targeted at Birth to Three and high-quality child care programs.
Dr. Betty Hyde, DEL director, told legislators and other members of the QEC that no funding would be required in the current biennium, but the expanded preschool program would need about $5 million to $6 million in the 2013-15 biennium.
Program proponents said that implementation would start in locations where schools have received funding for state-funded all-day kindergarten to build a strong level of continuity in these schools. Then it would branch out as all-day kindergarten expands across the state.
… With boughs of holly
The other major recommendation decided today at the QEC meeting related to the revised funding formula for the Transitional Bilingual Program (TBIP) described in the 2011-13 operating budget (Sec. 514).
As you might recall, the Legislature adopted a provision that would change the formula to direct more money to Level 1 participants, with less money for Level 2, even less money for Level 3, and two years of additional funding for students who exit the program. The QEC was charged with examining the revised funding model developed for TBIP through this proviso, and making recommendations to the Legislature.
Since the budget proviso was added at the end of negotiations, the QEC and others have grappled with legislative intent, calling upon sponsor Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, for more details. Zarelli said he was concerned that many students seemed to be “hanging out” in Level 3 for an exceptionally long time, and he wanted to provide an incentive to move students up and out of the program more quickly.
The QEC debated the issue at the November meeting and again today. (This was also the topic of conversation at the State Board of Education’s meeting in November.) Ultimately, the QEC recommendations would have the following components included in the next supplemental operating budget bill:
· For the 2012-13 school year, the revised funding model will be revenue neutral – students will be funded in Levels 1 – 3.
· Additional funding for students who successfully exit TBIP will be phased in beginning in the 2013-14 school year. The idea is that students who exit in the previous school year would receive additional academic support in 2013-14.
· Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, the funding model should provide funding for students who have successfully exited TBIP in the two previous school years.
· Districts that lose funding compared to the old formula would be held harmless in FY13, with funding, albeit at a lower level, possible in the 2013-14 school year.
The QEC decided that the additional funding for Level 4 would not be an entitlement but would be used to support students who continue to need the services to move beyond language proficiency and achieve academic success.
The initial recommendation from OSPI staff was to peg Level 4 funding as the same as Level 2 average allocations. Rep. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, questioned why Level 4 shouldn’t be set at 3.0 hours or the same level as Level 3, and suggested school districts be given the flexibility to use up to 20 percent of the additional dollars to strengthen and support their transitional bilingual program.
Members debated the suggestion, eventually deciding to include both components in their recommendations but also to also ask the bilingual advisory council to report back by June 30, 2012 with recommendations. These would include: the appropriate number of hours and suggested phase-in schedule for Levels 1 – 3; where to set the level for additional funding for students who have exited the program; and whether a school district should have the authority to transfer or use a percentage of the additional funding to support their TBIP.
Fa la la la la
The final bit of business was to look at the 2011 QEC recommendations to the Legislature and decide what to include in the group’s 2012 recommendations – beyond the two topics described above. During the 2011 session, Reps. Dammeier and Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton, had put forward two bills (HB 1443, HB 2111) that would have addressed some of the recommendations. Both bills passed the House but stalled in the Senate.
After a reminder summary of the 2011 recommendations and their status, QEC members directed OSPI Chief Financial Officer Shawn Lewis, who serves as lead support staff to the QEC, to draft a report that describes the 2011 recommendations as “completed,” “in progress,” or “not addressed.” The draft report will be shared with the QEC executive committee and then forwarded to the Legislature.