Testimony of Audrey Kasselman, Policy Analyst, before the Committee of the Whole

May 3, 2024
Testimony
Person Testifying: Audrey Kasselman
Title: Policy Analyst, Under 3 DC
Testimony Heard By: Committee of the Whole

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson, members of the Committee of the Whole, and staff. My name is Audrey Kasselman, and I am the Early Childhood Policy Analyst at DC Action and the Under 3 DC coalition. I want to express my gratitude to the Councilmembers who have supported and worked with us to protect the Pay Equity Fund. 

I especially want to thank you, Chairman Mendelson, for your commitment to restore $217 million of the Pay Equity Fund by not replenishing the Fiscal Stabilization Reserve through appropriations in the financial plans, despite the CFO’s unfounded demand. As DC Action said in our recent statement on the matter, “The Mayor and the CFO should never be balancing District budgets or funding reserve balances on the backs of dedicated early childhood educators and working families in general.” 

We urge the Council to reverse all cuts to child care programs, including the Pay Equity Fund, PKEEP, and the Child Care Subsidy program – which my colleague Ruqiyyah will discuss further. My focus today is on the Pay Equity Fund. We have two asks. One, restore the full $290.2 million allocation (for FY25 through FY28) and two, pursue progressive revenue raising strategies to meet the Pay Equity Fund’s increasing costs. 

We ask the Council to fully restore the Pay Equity Fund at a bare minimum. Salary cuts for early educators just one year after the program’s launch run counter to the intention of the program: to finally fairly pay educators, retain and attract more educators, and improve the quality of instruction in early childhood classrooms. 

While reinstating $290.2 million across the four-year plan – the amount that Mayor Bowser cut in her proposed budget – is critical to protecting the salaries and health benefits of early childhood educators, these funds alone will not do so. The projected cost of the program for FY24 is $87 million, but the approved allocation was only $69.5 million. OSSE plans to make up this current gap using $17 million in carryover funds from the first two years of the program. The imbalance is the result of higher than anticipated educator credentials , a new higher salary WTU contract negotiated just before the program launch, and the mayor and the Council’s decision to cut $4.4 million from the program in FY24. 

The impact of this year’s funding gap is already evident. This week, we learned that OSSE is not allowing any new child care centers to enroll in the Pay Equity Fund for the final quarter of FY24, due to funding limitations. This means that centers that may have faced greater barriers to participating in the program – such as language barriers or limited administrative capacity – cannot benefit this year. These programs subsequently risk losing qualified teachers to programs that pay more, and families risk losing their seats for the fall. 

We’ve known all along that the Pay Equity Fund costs will naturally grow, as all labor costs do. We must account for these costs as we create our budget, just like we do when budgeting for public education for older children. 

We are proud of the achievements of the Pay Equity Fund to date, and we are grateful to the Council and OSSE for your efforts to make it a success. Now is the time to build on this success by fully restoring the Fund and planning for its expansion.  

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.