Washington Can Close the Education Gap by Increasing Funding for Homeless Children
Olympia (February 14, 2019) - Tomorrow, members of Washington’s Senate Committee will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 5820, an essential bill that will increase eligibility for child care and early learning programs for homeless and other vulnerable children. In addition to increasing funding and income eligibility, the bill also guarantees slots for children with housing instability, allowing.an additional 368 homeless children to immediately enroll.
Washington's Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is one of the highest quality pre-K programs in the country. An average low income child is 20% more likely to be ready for Kindergarten if they attend ECEAP. Unfortunately, due to extreme eligibility standards and low funding, thousands of children are being left behind, including 185 homeless children who are currently waitlisted. In fact, only 9.2% of the children served by ECEAP from 2017-2018 were homeless.
Under the current ECEAP eligibility requirements, parents have to be at or below 110% of the federal poverty level ($22,858 yearly income) to access services. This means that a single mother raising 2 children on minimum wage earns too much to qualify. In fact, 21 of the homeless children on the ECEAP waitlist are over the 110% requirement and still do not qualify, including children with housing instability -- even those sleeping in a shelter or staying with friends or relatives.
“A lack of proper funding and unrealistic eligibility thresholds are preventing us from delivering quality education to all low-income children who apply for our program, especially homeless children,” says Joel Ryan, Executive Director of the Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP Association. “We should never have to shut the door on families who need us the most, and I am confident that the pending legislation will provide us with the resources necessary to ensure that no child is left behind.”
“The current income requirements for ECEAP are drastically out of touch with the economic realities of Washington families,” says Lauren Hipp, Washington Early Learning Campaign Director at MomsRising. “Homeless children deserve to access the same quality education as their peers, and we urge our state officials to dedicate more funding towards learning for our most vulnerable children.”
A recent report found that students without stable housing in Washington have significantly lower academic outcomes than their peers. This unrealistic income requirement, which also fails to take into account other factors such as high costs of living and lack of affordable housing, is preventing children who are most in need of accessing ECEAP’s services from doing so.
“ECEAP can help identify homeless families early and connect these families to support services to improve stability and security,” says Katara Jordan, Senior Manager of Policy and Advocacy at Building Changes.“We need to ensure that all children and families experiencing homelessness are eligible for and can access this important program.”
Children experiencing homelessness should be a priority. Support for SB 5280 is an important step towards closing the education gap and ending the cycle of poverty in Washington communities.
NOTE: Joel and Lauren are available for interview upon request. They can also connect you with former homeless families who can share their personal stories.