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Education
'The trifecta:' CWU child care programs support parents, kids and students
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For nearly four decades, an early learning program at Central Washington University has provided child care for the children of university students, faculty and staff.

The goal is to enable the adults to focus on work and studies, while the children receive care and learning opportunities.

Spread across two locations on the Ellensburg campus, the program serves children 4 weeks to 12 years old and integrates play-based learning to simultaneously help prepare young ones for a strong start to K-12.

But it’s not just CWU graduates and a strong group of young learners the program is growing. The site also hosts practicum students and student staff, contributing to a strong future teaching force.

Introducing the programs

CWU’s early learning program might be a little-known gem outside the Ellensburg community, but it has deep roots tracing back to 1983, said Michelle Hill, the programs’ director. Today, it exists as two child care programs that aim first and foremost to serve CWU students with children, and then cater to staff and faculty with kids as space is available.

The Rainbow Center on CWU’s campus at Michaelsen Hall serves as many as 23 infants and toddlers at a given time. Nearby, the Early Childhood Learning Center, tucked among student apartments, has four classrooms of 15 students from age 2 through 12.

“Our main goal is for student-parents to be able to take classes (and) bring their child to a homelike environment,” she said.

The number of students at CWU with children varies from quarter to quarter, Hill said. There is usually a wait list at each program.

Children of CWU students generally make up the bulk of the wait list for infants and toddlers, while children of staff account for the majority of a wait list of 4- and 5-year-olds, and sometimes school-aged children, Hill said.

Up until four years ago, ECLC only served children up to age 8. The expansion has been especially helpful amid the pandemic, since it allows the program to support school-aged children in hybrid learning, Hill said.

The cost of attendance varies based on services. Parents can choose a morning, afternoon or full-day schedule. Their kids must attend at least two days a week.

Students are offered a lower rate than staff, with the full-day cost of care for an infant costing a student $30, compared to $44 for a staff member. For students, the child care fees can be charged to their financial aid package.

Early learning

The two CWU programs use Creative Curriculum, teaching materials that incorporate play to solidify foundational and social and emotional skills — “self-help, letters, numbers.”

“We meet the child where they’re at, developmentally-wise, and then we (tailor) the curriculum to their needs,” Hill said. “They go to kindergarten very prepared.”

Hill said she gets this information from parents whose students have graduated into kindergarten, whose teachers say they’re mature in a range of skills.

“I’m very proud of that,” she said.

It’s a prudent goal. State data show that students with foundational skills like listening to instructions, sharing, holding a pencil and understanding the concept of numbers prior to entering kindergarten are more likely to meet standards on third-grade math and reading exams. Those are in turn indicators of whether students are likely to graduate from high school.

As it stands, just 51.5% of students enter kindergarten with the skills needed to be considered ready. In the Ellensburg School District, 46.2% of students do, according to state data.

While parents are their children’s first teachers, access to high-quality child care programs can contribute to kindergarten readiness.

In Central Washington, supply is one of the barriers that could be contributing to low kindergarten readiness rates. In Kittitas County, for example, there were 729 child care slots in 2019 according to Child Care Aware of Washington, compared to 2,283 children 5 and under. (Read more about the problem with child care supply in Central Washington here.)

Part of the fix

CWU’s early learning programs might be part of the solution in more than one way. In addition to contributing to the supply of high-quality child care in Kittitas County, the two sites help educate future early learning professionals.

Hill is one example of that. Starting out as a lead teacher for kids aged 3-4 at ECLC in 1998, she worked for 10 years before becoming the program’s assistant director. Another nine years on, she transitioned into her current role as director in 2017.

In addition to directing over a dozen professional staff with the support of assistant director Brittany Tyler, Hill oversees 50 to 60 student staff each quarter. She also helps guide five to 10 CWU students majoring in Family and Child Life — which can lead to work in settings like hospitals or social service agencies — through course work at her programs, she said.

On top of that, she opens her classrooms to early learning students to teach.

Each quarter, Dr. Dia Gary, an associate professor in CWU’s Department of Education Development, Teaching and Learning, brings early childhood education students to classrooms within the child care programs to teach lessons.

“I find that when I plan authentic engagement with ‘real students,’ my students learn so much more and can bring theory into practice and application,” Gary said in an email. “It is the difference between reading about driving a car and driving one. BIG difference.”

Students in Gary’s program can become certified teachers and go onto work in preschool through third-grade settings, or work with children in non-public school settings, she said. This qualifies them to work in a range of settings in the early childhood field, from hospitals to child care centers, adoption agencies, and more, said Gary.

“We have the trifecta,” Hill said of the outcome of the university’s early learning programs. They support parents, young students and the early learning sector itself, she said.


Business
AP
IRS chief expects new child payments to start this summer

WASHINGTON — It’s a strain, but the head of the IRS said Tuesday he expects to meet the July 1 deadline in the new pandemic relief law for starting a groundbreaking tax program aimed at reducing child poverty. That means new advance monthly payments of as much as $300 per child could begin flowing to lower-income families this summer.

In testimony at a Senate hearing, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said it will cost nearly $400 million and require the hiring of 300 to 500 people to get the new monthly payment system and electronic portal in place for the child tax credit. “The IRS will be working hard to deliver this program quickly and efficiently,” he said.

“We have to create a new structure,” Rettig said, adding that the tax-collecting IRS is “not historically” a benefits agency. The IRS, which has suffered budget cuts over the past decade, has been further burdened by the pandemic and the task of sending out hundreds of millions of economic stimulus payments in three rounds.

In embedding the expanded child tax credit in the $1.9 trillion rescue legislation enacted last month, Democrats sought to provide support to families affected by the coronavirus pandemic and parents forced to cut down on work or give up jobs to take care of children after losing access to childcare. Democrats view the tax change as an opportunity to address income inequality worsened by the pandemic. According to some academic estimates, it would reduce the number of children living in poverty in the U.S. by more than half.

It temporarily increases the existing child tax credit from a maximum $2,000 a year per child to $3,000 for each child aged 6 to 17 and $3,600 for children under 6. It offers the option for families to receive advance monthly payments, rather than waiting for a lump sum based on the parents’ tax liability. The change will be in effect for a year under the rescue law; Democratic lawmakers have said they want to make it permanent.

That has sparked criticism by Republicans, who have criticized the initiative as an expansion of the welfare state that removes the incentive for parents to seek work. They are expressing concern about fraud in the program and asking what the IRS will do to crack down on improper payments.

The new child tax credit “is not targeted to pandemic relief, and risks the loss of billions of taxpayer dollars in fraudulent and improper payments,” Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, wrote in letters to Biden administration officials.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said he was concerned that the new tax benefit will remake the IRS’ role into a “social welfare-oriented” agency.

Rettig, as the independent head of the IRS responsible for neutrally administering the benefit, isn’t taking a position with either side. While acknowledging the possibility of some fraud in the program, he said the IRS will be fully able to detect and weed it out.

In addition, he told the senators, the new electronic portal for processing the child tax payments “will be as user-friendly as possible.”

Rettig at the hearing also acknowledged that the national gap between federal taxes owed and actually collected is more than double, at about $1 trillion annually, than official government estimates have indicated.

Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who pressed Rettig on the true size of the gap, called that “a jaw-dropping figure.”

Democrats are putting a spotlight on the so-called tax gap, which deprives the government of revenue that could be put to constructive uses for society. The top 10% of earners have accounted for most of the gap, experts say, by underreporting their liabilities, intentionally or not, as tax avoidance or outright evasion.

Wyden also cited the perception that the Internal Revenue Service has tended to audit taxpayers of modest means more aggressively than the wealthy — an accusation that Rettig denied.


Business
AP
US recommends 'pause' for J&J shots in blow to vaccine drive

WASHINGTON — The U.S. on Tuesday recommended a “pause” in use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of rare but potentially dangerous blood clots, setting off a chain reaction worldwide and dealing a setback to the global vaccination campaign.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced that they were looking into unusual clots in six women between the ages of 18 and 48. One person died.

The acting FDA commissioner expected the pause to last only a matter of days. But the decision triggered swift action in Europe and elsewhere as the drugmaker, regulators and providers moved to halt the use of the J&J vaccine, at least for now.

J&J said in a statement that it was aware of the reports of blood clots, but that no link to its vaccine had been established. However, the company said late Tuesday it would delay the rollout of its vaccine in Europe and pause new vaccinations in its trials that are still underway until it can update its guidance on how to proceed.

Hundreds of thousands of doses were due to arrive in European countries, where vaccinations have been plagued by supply shortages, logistical problems and concerns over blood clots in a small number of people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not yet cleared for use in the U.S.

Any slowdown in the dissemination of the shots could have broad implications for the global vaccination effort. The J&J vaccine held immense promise because its single-dose regimen and relatively simple storage requirements would make it easier to use, especially in less affluent countries.

The clots, which happened six to 13 days after vaccination in veins that drain blood from the brain, occurred together with low platelets, the fragments in blood that normally form clots.

More than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been given in the U.S., the vast majority with no or mild side effects.

“We know there are plenty of critics who say, ‘Why? It’s just a couple of cases. Why don’t we just move along?’” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s vaccine center. He noted past episodes when health problems surfaced in people who got new vaccines, such as the debut of the polio vaccine in 1955 and a vaccination campaign against a new form of flu in 1976.

When medical countermeasures injure people in the United States, “we don’t have a lot of tolerance for that, and that tends to undermine vaccine confidence,” Marks said. “So we simply have to do whatever we can to minimize or eliminate issues that might be considered friendly fire.”

The decision immediately upended some vaccine programs around the U.S.: In Atlanta, a mass vaccination event for public school teachers that was to have used the J&J vaccine was scrapped. St. Louis health officials said they would reach out to 1,800 people who got the shots to warn them of potential health issues. And in Montana, two colleges that had hoped to vaccinate students with J&J doses before they head home for the summer canceled clinics.

Authorities stressed they have found no sign of clot problems with the most widely used COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. — from Moderna and Pfizer.

Seth Shockley of Indianapolis received the J&J vaccine Sunday and was initially worried when he heard about the potential side effects Tuesday. His concerns faded when he learned there were only six confirmed cases of blood clots.

“I would much rather take the risk with the vaccine — a much smaller risk — than to risk it with COVID,” he said. Now he’s more worried that the reports could result in more people refusing to get vaccinated.

The FDA said the cases under investigation appear similar to the clots that are possibly linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine. European regulators have stressed that the AstraZeneca risk appears to be far lower than the possibility of developing clots from birth control pills, which typically cause clots in about 4 of every 10,000 women who use them for a year.

Speaking at the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious disease, said the pause would allow the FDA and the CDC to investigate the clotting cases and “to make physicians more aware of this.”

A CDC committee will meet Wednesday to discuss the cases, and the FDA has launched an investigation into the cause of the clots and low platelet counts.

FDA officials emphasized that Tuesday’s action was not a mandate. Doctors and patients could still use J&J’s vaccine if they decide its benefits outweigh its risks for individual cases, Marks said.

The agencies recommend that people who were given the J&J vaccine should contact their doctor if they experience severe headache, abdominal or leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks.

U.S. health authorities cautioned doctors against using a typical clot treatment, the blood-thinner heparin. European authorities investigating the AstraZeneca cases have concluded that the clots appear to be similar to a very rare abnormal immune response that sometimes strikes people treated with heparin, leading to a temporary clotting disorder.

While it’s not clear yet if the reports among J&J recipients are related, doctors would treat these kinds of unusual clots like they treat people who have the heparin reaction — with different kinds of blood thinners and sometimes an antibody infusion, said Dr. Geoffrey Barnes, a clot expert at the University of Michigan.

Even without J&J’s vaccine, White House officials said they remain on track to have enough supplies to vaccinate most American adults by the summer.

“We believe there’s enough vaccine in the system — Moderna and Pfizer — for all Americans who want to get vaccinated by May 31 to do so,” said Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator.

The J&J vaccine received emergency use authorization from the FDA in late February with great fanfare. Yet the shot only makes up a small fraction of the doses administered in the U.S. J&J has been plagued by production delays and manufacturing errors at the Baltimore plant of a contractor.

Last week, the drugmaker took over the facility to scale up production in hopes of meeting its commitment to the U.S. government of providing about 100 million doses by the end of May.

At the Green Wave Pharmacy in rural Clintwood, Virginia, many customers have specifically requested the J&J vaccine. Pharmacist Sheryl Pientka said the pharmacy in the Appalachian Mountains serves low-income and elderly people who prefer to get one shot instead of two.

Although the pharmacy has Moderna vaccines in stock, some elderly and homebound customers may wait for the J&J shot to get cleared for use again, Pientka said.

“It’s a very small town where everyone knows everyone else, so people say, ‘I know so-and-so got the vaccine. If she doesn’t have a problem, then I’ll go get it,’” she said.

———

Associated Press writers Mike Stobbe, Emily Wagster Pettus, Karen Matthews, Jill Bleed, Linda A. Johnson, Sophia Eppolito and Denise Lavoie also contributed to this report.


Washington pauses distribution; Yakima County had a relatively small supply of J&J

Johnson and Johnson vaccine has made up a relatively small portion of Yakima County’s COVID vaccine supply, and distribution of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will continue here uninterrupted.

Washington state immediately halted the use of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine Tuesday morning, following federal guidance. The pause came after six women who had received it developed a rare condition involving blood clots.

Washington officials aren’t aware of any instances of blood clots associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccines here, according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has only been distributed by Yakima County providers for a handful of weeks. This week, Yakima County received 1,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, about 15.1% of the 6,640 doses received, according to Yakima Health District figures.

In total, Yakima County has received 7,900 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses over just four weeks, according to figures provided by the Yakima Health District. In comparison, the county has been receiving many times more Pfizer and Moderna over 18 weeks.

As of late last week, five providers gave out just 1,025 Johnson & Johnson doses, according to the Yakima Health District’s vaccine report. That’s a small percentage of more than 58,000 first or single vaccine doses distributed in Yakima County.

The number of Johnson and Johnson doses given may be higher as the Yakima Health District vaccine report indicates several providers have not provided updated information.

For those who got the vaccine more than a month ago, the risk of complications is very low, the state Department of Health said.

People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider, the agency said.


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