Testimony of Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen, Director, Early Childhood, before OSSE

April 4, 2024
Testimony
Person Testifying: Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen
Title: Director, Early Childhood, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: OSSE
Type of Hearing: Budget Hearing

Good afternoon, Chairperson Mendelson. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. My name is Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen and I am Director of Early Childhood for DC Action, member of Under 3 DC, and a member of the Early Childhood Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force and the SECDCC. I am also a Ward 5 resident.

DC Action uses research, data, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. Our collaborative advocacy initiatives bring the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change. Through our signature coalitions, we empower families and communities. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being. 

My remarks today will focus on the Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund and the need to prevent deep harm to the early childhood educator workforce and the sector, and to fully restore funding to ensure that the District can meet its goals of expanding families’ access to high quality early childhood education. You hear from me a lot as an advocate for a stronger, more equitable early childhood system, but today colleagues will share the facts with you based on OSSE’s data, our work with providers, educators and parents, and our analysis. Today, I’m going to talk a little bit about myself.

Since the implementation of the Pay Equity Fund, I have received dozens of inquiries and spoken to advocates and policymakers in nearly every state in the country, amazed by our progress in supporting early childhood educators and wanting to replicate our efforts in their communities. We are highlighted in leading early childhood spaces as an example of how jurisdictions can begin to correct the decades of fragmentation and inequity that threaten child care systems across the country. The Council recognized that child care is a broken market and that our failure to treat it as a critical public good – and the foundation of our entire education continuum – harms children, families, child care educators and programs, businesses, and our economy, and that this program was needed when they voted to raise revenue for and pass the PEF. Even the Mayor’s administration celebrated the program during oversight hearings, despite eliminating the program in her proposed budget. 

On a personal note, I am a parent of a one-year-old who attends child care in Northeast DC, in a center in our neighborhood. I live on the border with Maryland but chose to send our child to a DC child care center because I knew their teachers would be fairly paid and have access to health care, thanks to the PEF.  I wanted my child’s educators to be economically secure and have their needs met, because 1) it’s right and 2) healthy educators can provide better care and education. Our child’s teachers are incredible and have been a necessary lifeline for my family, since we don’t have family in the area. They’ve helped to encourage his development and helped us troubleshoot challenges and concerns as novice parents. Their expertise has been indispensable in our lives, and their consistent and loving presence means that my kid is elated to see his teachers every day and comes home safe and thriving. I know his early experiences in this school setting mean he will have a lifelong love of learning. And the reliable and high quality care has meant that my partner and I are able to work, without worrying about our child, and have much needed support that has been critical for our mental health, our relationship, and our ability to be loving, patient, and present parents when our child is with us. 

My child’s lead teacher has a bachelor’s degree and a talented and knowledgeable educator, but her director has been clear that without the Pay Equity Fund maintaining a salary comparable to DCPS teachers with a BA is out of reach in her program budget without raising parent fees, something that my family cannot afford. The data and prevailing research on early childhood education that I’m familiar with in my role as DC Action’s Director of Early Childhood confirms this.  Cutting the PEF would be shattering to my child’s educator, his center, and to our family.

Finally, my partner and I are both in Director-level positions at our organizations and are paid on par with the market, but the cost of child care means that one of our top two factors in planning our family is avoiding having two children in child care, which would cost us nearly $5,000 a month. Eliminating the Pay Equity Fund would only exacerbate the already suffocating cost of child care and is the kind of decision that tells families like mine to get out of DC, rather than stick around for the Mayor’s so-called comeback.

That’s why I call on the DC Council to fully restore the PEF, including raising revenue to do so.