Testimony of Jarred Bowman DC Action Early Childhood Policy Analyst before the Committee of the Whole

DC Action Public Testimony Logo
June 24, 2021
Person Testifying: Jarred Bowman
Title: DC Action Early Childhood Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Council of the District of Columbia
Type of Hearing: Committee of the Whole Hearing - Fiscal Year 2022

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Council. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee of the Whole about the fiscal year 2022 budget. I am Jarred Bowman, Early Childhood Policy Analyst for DC Action and the Under 3 DC coalition. 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, Under 3 DC and the DC Home Visiting Council, 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.

We are grateful that most members of the DC Council have voiced their acknowledgement of the value of early childhood education and their understanding of the essential role early educators play in our children’s development, our community, and our economy. For fiscal year 2022, we hope to see this understanding translate into meaningful, transformative investment into our early learning system.  In order to build the sustainable system our children, families, and economy need, we ask that the DC Council allocate recurring local funding of $60 million for fair early educator compensation in FY 2022.

As is, the proposed budget funds needed short-term relief for the child care sector. But merely investing in relief is not enough to sustain and build our early learning system. We cannot rely on one-time funds to rebuild an increasingly challenged pillar of our communities and economy.

We are in an early educator workforce crisis. Early educator supply has always been a challenge, but the conditions brought about by the COVID-19 have placed us in an even more precarious situation.  A decade ago, a 2011 report published by the DC Commission on Early Childhood Teacher Compensation found “chronically low rates of retention.” For the last year, early learning programs have suffered, with many forced to lay off staff and then struggling to rehire or replace them when it became possible to reopen, as teachers left the workforce to do lower-barrier, similar-paying work. Child care programs that know the value of their educators are in a bind: parents cannot afford what it costs for a program to pay its teachers fairly and subsidy reimbursement rates do not account for wages on par with other teachers, but educators are fleeing the field in search of better pay. In recent weeks, as Bureau of Labor Statistics data has surfaced about a national drop in the child care workforce since before COVID-19, the alarm bells have been going off about the early childhood workforce crisis.

Early educators are at the core of everything we want for our early childhood education system. They shape the most defining years of infants and toddlers’ mental, emotional, and social development. In their report Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education, the National Academies highlighted early childhood educators as key drivers of quality early learning systems and emphasized that improved compensation funded by public investment is necessary to attract and retain a high-quality workforce. As we strive to strengthen our child care system in three important categories, educators are inextricable from each. They are:

  1. Quality: Our children need higher-quality programs to have the best possible shot. Quality early childhood education has been proven to contribute to positive outcomes for children from the short term to later in life: improving educational attainment, employment, involvement with the justice system, and more. Quality is key to these outcomes and quality educators are fundamental to program quality. In fact, early educators play a central role in nearly all of the 39 areas that infant and toddler early learning programs are evaluated on through the District’s Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS), Capital Quality. However, without adequate compensation, programs – and the system at large – cannot find or keep quality educators.
  2. Affordability: All families need early care and education, whether they choose to provide it in their own home, enlist family, friends, and neighbor care, or enroll their child in a licensed child care facility. Licensed child care is not affordable for most families, nor are programs pocketing big profits. In fact, most programs operate on tiny margins. Despite this, in DC, the average monthly cost of infant care exceeds $2000 per month, which is more than the cost of in-state college tuition. Due to the small class sizes and low teacher-child ratios that are necessary for the safety and education of young children, the most significant driver of that cost is program staffing, amounting, on average, to 63-68% of a child care program’s budget. Keeping costs as low as possible so that more families can access care – whether through the subsidy program or by paying privately – has meant deep suppression of early educators’ wages. In order to maintain and increase child care affordability, while cultivating the workforce that is key to the outcomes we want to see for our children, sustained, public investment is necessary.
  3. Access: DC has long faced a shortage of child care. To increase the number of seats in the District, we must grow a larger high-quality workforce to staff them. As conditions predating and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic have shrunk the early educator workforce, and as we strive to improve the quality of our existing workforce, higher compensation for child care teachers is necessary to do so.

We must not, and cannot, build the system we want on the backs of early educators and parents trying to make ends meet. DC’s littlest residents need a stronger child care system built on a foundation that includes fairly compensation for the majority Black and brown woman early learning workforce.

Chairman Mendelson and members of the DC Council, I urge you to allocate $60 million in local, recurring funding to fairly compensate early childhood educators and make an expanded, affordable, high-quality early childhood system possible. Advancing a tax proposal that would correct tax inequities and raise revenue would make it possible to make this enhancement permanent.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I welcome your questions.