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Fair start for kids account.

(1) The fair start for kids account is created in the state treasury. Moneys in the account may be spent only after appropriation.
(2) Expenditures from the account may be used only for child care and early learning purposes.


Short title2021 c 199: "This act may be known and cited as the fair start for kids act." [ 2021 c 199 § 1.]
FindingsIntent2021 c 199: "(1) The legislature finds that high quality child care and early learning is critical to a child's success in school and life. The legislature recognizes that COVID-19 has devastated the existing child care industry, making it unduly burdensome for families to find care. The legislature recognizes that without immediate action to support child care providers, and without expanded access to affordable child care, especially infant and school-age care, parents will not be able to return to work while children lose valuable learning opportunities. In order to bolster a full economic recovery, the legislature finds that every child deserves a fair start.
(2) The legislature finds that access to affordable child care increases economic growth and labor force participation. The legislature further finds that an affordable, accessible system of high quality child care is necessary to the health of Washington's economy because employers benefit when parents have safe, stable, and appropriate care for their children. The legislature recognizes that too many working parents are forced to reduce their hours, decline promotional opportunities, or leave the workforce completely due to a lack of affordable and appropriate child care. The legislature finds that a report commissioned by the department of commerce in 2019 found that working parents in Washington forego $14,000,000,000 each year directly due to child care scarcity. The legislature recognizes that this disproportionally impacts women in the workforce and that in September 2020 alone, 78,000 men left the workforce, compared to 600,000 women.
(3) The legislature recognizes that quality child care can be a stabilizing factor for children experiencing homelessness, and is a proven protective factor against the impacts of trauma they may experience. Access to child care is also a necessary support for families with young children in resolving homelessness and securing employment.
(4) The legislature finds that the scarcity of child care, exacerbated by COVID-19, most significantly impacts families furthest from opportunity. The legislature recognizes that there are additional barriers to accessing this foundational support for immigrant communities and families whose first language is not English, families who have children with disabilities, rural communities, or other child care deserts. The legislature recognizes that high quality, inclusive child care and early learning programs have been shown to reduce the opportunity gap for low-income children and black, indigenous, and children of color while consistently improving outcomes for all children both inside and outside of the classroom.
(5) The legislature finds that without access to comprehensive, high quality prenatal to five services, children often enter kindergarten without the social-emotional, physical, cognitive, and language skills they need to be successful and fall behind their peers, facing compounding developmental challenges throughout their K-12 education. The legislature finds that cascading impacts of inaccessible child care and early learning programs create systemic barriers for children and their families that result in higher special education needs, greater likelihood of needing to repeat grades, increased child welfare and juvenile justice involvement, reduced high school graduation rates, limited postsecondary education attainment, and greater barriers to employment in adulthood.
(6) The legislature finds the vast majority of child care providers are small businesses and nonprofit organizations. In addition to adhering to federal, state, and local regulations to ensure healthy and safe environments for children, the legislature recognizes that child care providers must ensure their employees are adequately compensated and supported. However, the legislature acknowledges that the reduced staffing ratios for health and safety, additional cost of personal protective equipment and extra cleaning supplies, increased use of substitutes needed during COVID-19-related absences, and increased technology demands during school closures from the pandemic are further straining the viability of the child care business model in Washington state.
(7) The legislature finds that the health and stability of the early learning workforce is pivotal to any expansion of child care in Washington state. The legislature recognizes that the child care workforce, predominantly comprised of women of color, is structurally afflicted by low wages, limited or no health care, and a severe lack of retirement benefits. The legislature further recognizes that the threat of COVID-19 compounds these underlying issues, forcing providers to navigate increased stress, anxiety, and behavioral issues all while risking their lives to care for children. The legislature recognizes that families, friends, and neighbors who provide care are a critical component of the child care system. The legislature finds that child care workers are essential and deserve to be compensated and benefited accordingly.
(8) Therefore, the legislature resolves to respond to the COVID-19 crisis by first stabilizing the child care industry and then expanding access to a comprehensive continuum of high quality early childhood development programs, including infant and school-age child care, preschool, parent and family supports, and prenatal to three services. The legislature recognizes this continuum as critical to meeting different families' needs and offering every child in Washington access to a fair start.
(9) The legislature recognizes that the federal government has provided substantial additional funding through the coronavirus response and relief supplemental appropriations act, P.L. 116-260, division M., and the American rescue plan act of 2021. The purpose of the additional federal funding is to ensure access to affordable child care and stabilize and support child care providers affected by COVID-19. Therefore, it is the intent of the legislature to use the additional federal funding to supplement state funding in order to accelerate these investments.
(10) The legislature recognizes the strengths that multilingual, diverse early learning providers and caregivers contribute to early learning across the state. Therefore, the legislature intends to expand language access services to create an inclusive early learning system that specifically supports underserved providers.
(11) The legislature intends to expand eligibility for existing child care and preschool programs to increase access. The legislature recognizes that expansion must be accompanied by an investment to make child care more affordable. Therefore, the legislature intends to eliminate copayments for low-income families and limit copayments for any family on subsidy to no more than seven percent of their income.
(12) The legislature further intends to stabilize, support, and grow the diverse early learning workforce by funding living wages and affordable health benefits while providing training, infant and early childhood mental health consultation, shared business services, and a variety of other supports that recognize the critical role that early learning providers serve for all Washington children.
(13) The legislature intends to accelerate Washington's economic recovery from the devastating impacts of COVID-19 by dramatically expanding access to affordable, high quality child care and preschool, in order to get parents back to work and provide every child with a fair start." [ 2021 c 199 § 2.]
Conflict with federal requirements2021 c 199: "If any part of this act is found to be in conflict with federal requirements that are a prescribed condition to the allocation of federal funds to the state, the conflicting part of this act is inoperative solely to the extent of the conflict and with respect to the agencies directly affected, and this finding does not affect the operation of the remainder of this act in its application to the agencies concerned. Rules adopted under this act must meet federal requirements that are a necessary condition to the receipt of federal funds by the state." [ 2021 c 199 § 603.]
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