Commerce invests $30.4 million to add high-quality early learning spaces

Grants will fund acquisition, renovation, and construction of 42 early learning facilities to serve nearly 2,500 children in 15 counties

OLYMPIA, WA — The Washington State Department of Commerce, in partnership with the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), has awarded $30.4 million in grants to 42 early learning providers across the state.

Child care center classroom

Little Stars Learning Center in Pasco received an ELF grant in the 2021-2023 biennium. Little Stars celebrated its grand opening on Jan. 3, 2024, and provides space for 70 ECEAP/WCCC children, ages infant to 13 years old.

Early Learning Facilities grants provide financial assistance to Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) contractors and Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) providers to plan, expand, remodel, purchase, or construct early learning facilities and classrooms.

These grants will create at least 2,422 new child care slots.

View the complete list of projects awarded funding and a map of where they are located.

“Access to childcare is foundational for working parents and a critical component for equitable participation in the economy,” said Commerce Director Mike Fong. “Early Learning Facilities investments will bring high-quality childcare to Washington communities so that parents can work, knowing that their children are secure and thriving in a safe environment.”

“Communities are stronger when there is enough access to high-quality early learning for all children, regardless of family income,” said Ross Hunter, secretary of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. “The Legislature has wisely invested in the buildings and classrooms needed to provide this level of care. I’m pleased that the strong partnership between DCYF and the Department of Commerce continues to support ECEAP contractors and Working Connections Child Care providers to expand access to care.”

Commerce received 212 applications requesting a total of $196 million. The considerable demand for early care funding exceeded available funding by more than 600%, and illustrates the need for additional childcare capacity in communities statewide.

Child care center classroom

Prior grant recipient Little Stars Learning Center in Pasco.

ELF funding is already benefiting communities across Washington. Little Stars Early Learning in Pasco received a grant in the 2021-23 biennium. The facility, which is a dual-language program, opened Jan. 3, 2024, and is open from 4 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, year round. The extended hours are by design, according to Bertha Landin, owner and director of Little Stars.

“This is what the families need because they work in agriculture and warehouses,” Landin said. “We accept private care and children of all special needs to meet them where they are at in their learning to help them be successful citizens.”

Commerce awarded projects in three categories: Pre-design ($21,605 award limit); minor renovation and pre-development ($216,052 award limit); and new construction and major renovation ($2.5 million award limit). When making award decisions, Commerce and DCYF evaluated key project criteria, such as the number of early learning spaces for kids from low-income families, the project location relative to other early learning facilities, and projects located in rural locations and low-income neighborhoods. The names and locations of in-home care providers not operating under a commercial license have been simplified to protect sensitive personal information.

Since 2017, ELF has invested more than $170 million to create nearly 13,000 childcare slots. To learn more about the Early Learning Facilities grant program, please visit the ELF website.

Sign up for emails about future rounds and other program updates.


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