Early Childhood Education Assistance Program in financial jeopardy - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Early Childhood Education Assistance Program in financial jeopardy

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The Washington State Legislature is currently considering cuts to the state's Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP). The program serves the most vulnerable children in the state - children and families who are feeling the economic downturn the most severely.  

Washington Kids Count estimated that Washington may see an increase of more than 16 percent in the number of children in poverty with increased unemployment in Washington.  Those affected most will be children like those served in ECEAP - children living in serious poverty, with little safety net available when jobs are lost.

Eligibility

ECEAP is available to families who earn less than 110% of the Federal Poverty Level ($23,320/year for a family of four).  Families who receive public assistance, children in foster care, and disabled children are also eligible.

In 2008 the Washington State Department of Early Learning has contracted with 40 schools, child care centers, and community and faith-based facilities to provide ECEAP services to more than 8200 children and families.  Of these children, approximately 50% are Caucasian, 29% Hispanic, 13% African-American, and 8% are from other ethnicities.

(3/21/09)
Governor's support may not prevent cuts

The state-funded program known as ECEAP wraps children in a nurturing safety net of preschool education, nutritious meals, medical and dental referrals, social services and more.

It serves the poorest of Washington's working poor: families with incomes below 110 percent of the federal poverty level ($23,320 a year for a family of four) and their preschool children, including 378 in Clark County.

Nearly half of all families it serves statewide this year have household incomes of less than $15,000, and 40 percent have no medical insurance.

But advocates for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program are sounding the alarm that the program may be on the chopping block as state budget-writers look for discretionary programs they can cut to whittle a budget deficit that could grow to nearly $9 billion by mid-2011.

ECEAP is a centerpiece of Gov. Chris Gregoire's new Department of Early Learning. Under her administration, the 24-year-old program has been given a boost, with funding last year to enroll an additional 2,250 3- and 4-year-olds statewide, including 55 more in Clark County.

The department contracts with 40 schools, child care centers and community and faith-based organizations to provide services statewide. In Clark County, services are provided at seven sites through the non-profit Educational Opportunities for Children and Families.

Doug Lehrman, former administrator of the Vancouver office of the state Children's Administration, runs the local nonprofit. It operates ECEAP and the separate, federally funded Head Start and Early Head Start programs with a combination of state and federal dollars.

Gregoire protected ECEAP in her 2009-11 budget, recommending no cuts in its $112.9 million budget, which is funded entirely from the state general fund. Her budget would maintain funding for 8,226 preschool children at an average cost of $6,674 for each child.

"This is a really strong priority for her," said Leslie Goldstein, the governor's early learning policy adviser. "It was a strong statement she made in the budget. She fought really hard to maintain those slots."

But there's no guarantee the governor's support will be enough to keep the program intact.

"The revenue forecast that came out (Thursday) made it clear that even programs that were protected in the governor's budget are at risk," said Jon Gould of the Children's Alliance.

"I think we'll do a good job of making our case, but I understand legislators have some very difficult choices to make," Lehrman said. "I'm quite concerned we will take a cut."

State Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, a member of the House Education Appropriations subcommittee, said he could not comment on the committee's closed deliberations over the education budget.

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