The way Washington provides early childhood education and programs for vulnerable and at-risk children would be dramatically realigned to try to deliver existing services more efficiently under a proposal from Gov. Jay Inslee.
Inslee’s plan, which is included in the 2017-19 budget he proposed this week, would create a new Cabinet-level department, merging the current Department of Early Learning with Child Protective Services, juvenile justice programs, foster care services and other child-welfare programs administered by the Department of Social and Health Services.
“This is a major, major change in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “We have state workers and state agencies that share the responsibility for these children and families, we want them to share their offices and have a much more efficient way of providing wraparound services.”
Creating and organizing the new department, dubbed the Department of Children, Youth and Families, would cost an estimated $7 million to $9 million in both 2018 and 2019, money that is included in Inslee’s proposed budget.
It would not create new programs, but would reorganize existing programs so they could be deployed more efficiently.
“The way government is organized signals what its priorities are,” the commission wrote in its report. “To truly give all children the great start in school and life they deserve, our state needs a comprehensive agency dedicated to the social, emotional and physical well-being of children, youth and families.”
The state did something similar in 2006, when it consolidated several programs scattered across state government to create the Department of Early Learning, which monitors child care centers and offers preschool to low-income kids.
State Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle, worked on creating that department and co-chaired the commission that’s now recommending expanding on that work.
The state spends more than $1.5 billion annually on the programs that would be combined in the new department, she said, so it makes sense to spend $7 million to $9 million to ensure they’re run as efficiently as possible.
“We need a department that has a focused strategy for improving services for children, youth and families,” she said.
The new department would combine the Department of Early Learning with the Children’s Administration, which oversees foster services and adoptions, the Office of Juvenile Justice, Juvenile Rehabilitation and Child Protective Services.
It is but a small part of Inslee’s education-related proposals for 2017.
Inslee, who campaigned in 2012 saying new taxes were not necessary to fully fund education, unveiled about $4 billion in proposed new taxes earlier this week. Most of the money would go to teacher salaries to comply with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, and other education spending.
“To seriously fund education this year takes dollars, big dollars,” Inslee said Thursday. “I do believe in Santa Claus, but I don’t believe he’s going to bail us out of this fiscal problem, the money has to come from somewhere.”
While his tax proposals are already facing harsh criticism from Republicans ahead of what could be a lengthy budget standoff, Kagi predicted bipartisan support for the new department.
Inslee touted his new proposal Thursday at El Centro de la Raza’s Jose Marti Child Development Center in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, which provides state-funded preschool to low-income kids.
After the 4- and 5-year-olds at the dual language school serenaded him with “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,” and recited “Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca,” a poem by their school’s Cuban namesake, Inslee touted his budget.
“2,700 more children are going to get early childhood education in the upcoming biennium under my proposal,” he said. “These 4-year-olds are going to be ready for kindergarten, they’re going to be ready for first grade and they’re going to go to Washington State University and the University of Washington instead of Walla Walla Penitentiary.”