A pair of bills to expand access to early learning programs critical to student success were signed into law today by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Senate Bill 5437, sponsored by Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), makes more students eligible for the state’s early childhood education and assistance program (ECEAP) by increasing the income-level of households from which students can qualify. The legislation also directs the state Department of Children, Youth, and Families to consult with tribes and develop recommendations for closing the ECEAP opportunity gap for tribal children.

“We know ECEAP works, and works very effectively, to help children of color and from low-income homes access the critical early learning skills they need to keep up with their more-advantaged peers,” said Wilson, who is the vice chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. “We also know that a child whose family is a dollar above the 110 percent federal poverty limit is just as vulnerable as a child whose family is a dollar below it. This much-needed change will bring lasting change to the lives of children across our state.”

Senate Bill 5089, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), eliminates an eligibility gap for children who turn three years old during the school year. In past years, children who completed the state’s Early Support for Infants and Toddlers had to wait until age three to qualify for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance program. This bill eliminates that gap by extending eligibility to students who are not yet three years old when the school year begins.

“To improve outcomes for children with developmental delays or disabilities, it’s imperative that we give them continual access to quality early learning programs,” said Wellman, who chairs of the Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. “These programs can make an enormous difference for these kids’ future success.”

The Legislature also prioritized early learning programs through budget investments. The biennial capital construction budget provides $28.5 million for early learning facility grants, while the operating budget invests $35 million to expand the ECEAP program. Inslee signed both of those budgets into law today as well.