The Department of Commerce (Commerce) administers the Early Learning Facilities (ELF) program, which provides grants and loans to eligible organizations to plan, renovate, purchase, and construct early learning facilities. Commerce's administration of the program may not exceed an average of 4 percent of appropriated funding. Eligible organizations include the Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) providers, developers of housing and community facilities, community and technical colleges, educational service districts, local governments, federally recognized tribes, and religiously affiliated entities. In the 2021-23 biennium, eligible organizations may receive grants or loans up to:
In addition, school districts may receive grants or loans up to $855,823 to purchase, construct, or renovate early learning classrooms for the WCCC and the ECEAP. Commerce determines the level of private or public match required for construction, purchase, or renovation projects. Any recipient of a grant or loan must own or secure a long-term lease for the project site and commit to using the funded facility for preschool or childcare for 10 years if the award is less than $200,000 and for 20 years if the award is greater than $200,000. Recipients must also commit to being an active participant in good standing with the Early Achievers quality rating and improvement system. If a recipient ceases to be in good standing with Early Achievers, the grant must be repaid.
Early Learning Facilities (ELF) program grant or loan amounts are increased:
Grants or loans for predevelopment activities for eligible organizations to advance a major project are allowed up to $200,000. Program administration and technical assistance are added as eligible for funding through the ELF grant and loan program for eligible organizations.
Statutory references are corrected.
The time commitment for any recipient of a grant or loan to use the funded facility for preschool or childcare is lowered from 20 years to 10 years for awards greater than $200,000. The new start-up grant program, subject to the availability of amounts appropriated from the Fair Start for Kids Account, is removed.
(In support) Over 76 percent of direct appropriations related to early learning are for projects that exceed the current ELF program grant award levels. Early learning facilities provide education-based opportunities, create equity, and lift families out of poverty. In order for the state economy to fully recover in the short and long term, the state must address child care deserts and provide an adequate supply of child care. The cost of building or renovating a facility is often beyond the financial capability of local communities and organizations. A robust ELF program is critical to meeting the entitlement for the ECEAP. Early learning spaces within schools is competing with increased demand for transitional kindergarten and integrated special education services. Child-care retention and expansion are important to meeting the state needs for child care. The ELF grants and loans have helped early learning providers expand services. Expansion projects produce positive impacts in the communities by meeting demand for child care services. It is recommended that the Washington Early Learning Loan Fund be better integrated and streamlined with the ELF grant program.