Testimony of Natasha Riddle Romero, Bilingual Organizer, Under 3 DC, before the Committee of the Whole

March 1, 2023
Person Testifying: Natasha Riddle Romero
Title: Bilingual Organizer, Under 3 DC
Testimony Heard By: DC Council Committee of the Whole
Type of Hearing: Public Testimony
Topic of Testimony: Performance Oversight Hearing for Education Agencies

March 1, 2023

Good morning, Committee Chair Mendelson and members of the Committee of the Whole. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today. My name is Natasha Riddle Romero. I am the bilingual community organizer for Under 3 DC, a coalition committed to securing a strong start for every infant and toddler in the District of Columbia. My testimony today will focus on building on the initial success of the early educator pay equity fund to ensure all District educators can access higher incomes and continue to serve the DC’s youngest residents.

I have been organizing child care educators for over two years, and in that time, I have come to admire their passion and dedication. Before the Pay Equity Fund, early educators were underpaid, and if their first language was not English, many reported having challenges communicating with OSSE and other government agencies. Yet, they continue to show up to work every day to educate children. Only after the Pay Equity Fund, did many see a significant increase in income after years or even decades. For limited-English proficient tax-paying educators without social security numbers, the funds they received through the program were the first time, they believe, their contribution to the District was recognized.

Early childhood educators are one step closer to being equitably compensated and treated with dignity and respect. But the work is not finished. As OSSE develops infrastructure to ensure every qualifying educator receives their compensation, the Under 3 DC coalition recommends all technical support be provided in the appropriate language. As the permanent compensation program is introduced, we also recommend providing a 90-day public comment period so that educators and advocates can ensure the program works as intended.

A recent language access complaint filed by two Spanish-speaking home-based providers cited inadequate language support during the implementation of the first round of funds.. The Office of Human Rights found that OSSE was not in compliance with the Language Access Act of 2004 because its licensing division failed to hire a bilingual licensing specialist. The two providers were not given adequate interpretation and translation. This lack of adequate language access, as required by law, resulted in delayed payments and a number of applications denied.

More LEP providers who did not wish to come forward who are also affected by this lack of adequate services, and their employees are also affected.

While the Pay Equity Fund has been widely successful thus far, its continued success rides on OSSE’s ability to become compliant with language access laws.

We recommend that the DC Council please continue supporting early childhood educators by providing sufficient oversight of the technical assistance resources OSSE deploys to support ALL early childhood employers with implementing the permanent compensation program. We also respectfully recommend the DC Council ensure adequate time for public participation and comment on the program design before it’s made final.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My testimony has been submitted to the committee, and I am available for questions at nriddleromero@dckids.org.