Testimony of Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen, Director of Early Childhood, before the Committee of the Whole

February 28, 2024
Testimony
Person Testifying: Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen
Title: Director of Early Childhood, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee of the Whole
Type of Hearing: Oversight 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. 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 strengthen implementation and improve the design of the program. OSSE has made significant strides in getting this program off the ground, and the result is that in FY23, OSSE distributed $41.9 million in pay supplements to 4,085 educators, and transferred funds to the Health Benefits Exchange Authority to administer HealthCare4ChildCare. To date, the Pay Equity Fund has enrolled over 270 child development facilities, and HealthCare4ChildCare has provided free or low-cost health care to almost 1,500 early childhood education program staff and their dependents.

Early educators are the foundation of our early learning system, critical to each of its three pillars of quality, access, and affordability. They shape the most defining years of infants and toddlers’ mental, emotional, and social development. 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. Despite their important role and their skills and experience, educators have historically taken a pay penalty if they choose to work with infants and toddlers, rather than older children. At a rate of 34.4%, early educators have been nearly 6 times more likely to be in poverty than K-12 teachers, historically. 

While OSSE’s efforts have made a significant difference in the lives of thousands of early educators, improvements are necessary to meet the program’s goals. I outline these below.

Make early childhood educators whole. 

Educators lost out on up to $7,336 in quarter 1 of FY24 due to Pay Equity Fund design.

In the transition between pay supplements in FY23 and permanent compensation increases in FY24, OSSE failed to ensure that early childhood educators did not experience gaps in payment. Eligible educators received their final pay supplement in September 2023, but most did not receive their first Pay Equity Fund-enhanced paycheck until January of 2024. This is the result of a payment timeline that, thoughtfully, protects early learning programs from the increased cost of raising educator wages until they have received their first award at the end of the quarter

While this is a valuable approach to supporting CDF financial viability, it effectively eliminates Quarter 1 Pay Equity Fund wage supplements or increases for educators. This is because the final pay supplement of FY23 covered the previous quarter and the first Pay Equity Fund-enhanced paychecks only covered the most recent regular pay period. For an assistant teacher with a CDA, this represents a shortage of $2,368, and for a lead teacher with an associate’s degree, this represents a shortage of $4,520. Notably, teachers with the highest levels of education stand to lose the most this year: a lead teacher with a BA will lose out on $7,336. 

With funds available for the entirety of the fiscal year, OSSE should work to ensure educators are made whole in FY24 and collaborate with the relevant offices to ensure that any necessary authorization is in place to do so.

Improve communication and solicit community input during design and implementation phases.

To some degree, hiccups in implementation are to be expected in the rollout of a new, large-scale program. When they happen, the implementing agency must be willing to listen to community concerns and be communicative and responsive about issues raised. Further, walking through plans and/or testing out program implementation with a small subset of the population that will participate in the program may help prevent future issues.

In the rollout of the Pay Equity Fund, early learning program operators have highlighted a range of concerns for OSSE. These have included an inadequate funding formula that did not pay sufficient awards to cover the cost of increasing salaries; challenges updating the Division of Early Learning Licensing Tool (DELLT) with current staff information for OSSE to use in calculating facility awards; issues with updated data not being included in award calculations, including staff role and credentials; incorrect or missing equity adjustments; and more.

For a select number of issues program operators highlighted, OSSE took corrective action. Most significant of these was issues with the funding formula. Advocates developed a calculator tool based on OSSE’s formula to allow individual program operators to estimate the financial impact of participating in the program and discovered that it would significantly underfund providers. Providers and advocates shared this information and their tool with OSSE and OSSE made one-year enhancements to the funding formula, in response. Additionally, after advocacy from providers highlighting a system error that resulted in underpayment to some facilities, OSSE announced earlier this month that they had resolved the issue and would correct payment. 

When OSSE has acknowledged errors and corrected issues, the sense of relief amongst early learning leaders has been palpable and they can dedicate the time they spent advocating for OSSE to correct errors doing the critical work of leading their programs. However, a recent survey we conducted of child development facility operators indicates that, for many providers, issues remain unresolved and that communication from OSSE about the resolution of these issues has been sparse. Of 79% of respondents to our survey who shared that they had submitted an issue with their award amount to OSSE, 83% said they had yet to have their issue resolved. Providers raised concerns that they had expended hours attempting to address issues with the Pay Equity Fund, without resolution. One respondent said: “How are they actually working to resolve these issues? Who is being held accountable for the lost time, energy, stress, and financial burden OSSE has placed on centers and individual teachers?”

OSSE should take steps to improve transparency and communication with program operators, including describing how quarter one and any future errors will be addressed.

Redesign the Pay Equity Fund funding formula to better and more equitably target funds to CDFs.

OSSE’s Pay Equity Fund funding formula for child development facilities – which describes how OSSE will fund child development facilities to increase the pay of early childhood educators in FY 2024 and beyond – is based on flawed assumptions that, if implemented, could result in fewer educators receiving the intended benefits of the program. 

As our coalition worked with early learning leaders to understand the financial impact on their program of participating in the Pay Equity Fund, we found that OSSE’s assumptions (informed by limited data) overestimated current salaries of early childhood educators. As a result, the formula underestimated how much would be needed to bridge the difference between current and Pay Equity Fund’s required minimum salaries. Had OSSE used this formula, it would have awarded providers too little to bring those salaries up to the required level.

For FY24, recognizing limitations in its approach, OSSE increased the equity adjustment and added an across-the-board 30% enhancement to the award amounts of all participating programs. While this approach lacks the nuance necessary for OSSE to use it permanently, it was a much-needed adaptation made on a tight timeline. OSSE also provided the opportunity for providers to request a waiver from the minimum salary requirements with documentation that they could not meet the minimums, even with the formula enhancement. The one-time enhancement is set to expire at the end of FY24 and a permanent formula adjustment will need to replace it.

Critical to a strong funding formula will be the preservation of the equity adjustment, which allocates more resources to providers who serve families participating in the child care subsidy program. This is crucial because providers serving families often navigate, and support the families they serve to navigate, economic barriers stemming from historic inequities, including subsidy reimbursement rates lower than the true cost of care. It also may serve as an incentive for providers to increase their subsidy enrollment or to newly elect to participate in the subsidy program. OSSE should regularly collect and review data, including soliciting direct feedback, to ensure that the equity adjustment has the intended outcome.

Plan for implementation of the full early educator salary schedule through the Pay Equity Fund. 

The Pay Equity Fund continues to short educators up to $6,700, on average, by not paying educators for their years of experience.

Recognizing that a robust early childhood education system that meets the needs of the District’s residents could not exist without fair pay for its workforce, Birth-to-Three mandates publicly funded parity with DCPS teacher salaries, described as “compensation equivalent to the average base salary and fringe benefits of an elementary school teacher employed by District of Columbia Public Schools with the equivalent role, credentials, and experience.” This mandate led to the creation of the Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund and the Early Childhood Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force, composed of OSSE, educators, researchers, CDF administrators, policy experts, and early learning leaders. This task force released a series of recommendations for implementation of the PEF in its Final Report that included a recommendation to pay educators according to a salary schedule that accounts for role, credentials, and experience.

While the OSSE formula funds programs to pay educators based on their role and credential, it fails to include public dollars to support programs to pay early educators for their experience, as is necessary for parity with DCPS teachers, according to the Birth-to-Three Act. Unlike the task force’s recommended formula that base payments be calculated as the difference between the average1 proposed salaries and the average current salaries, OSSE’s formula calculates them as the difference between the minimum proposed salaries and the average current salaries. Under this approach, OSSE only pays programs just enough to meet educator salary minimums, or entry level salaries, regardless of staff years of experience. OSSE has informed programs that they may use excess funds beyond what they need to meet minimum salaries to pay staff at their discretion; however, this option is limited by CDF funding amounts under the current formula. As a result, educators lose between $3,900 and $6,700, on average, annually, continuing the legacy of underpaying early childhood educators relative to their peers and the value of their work.

The District’s move to publicly fund early educator compensation increase is a significant achievement – the only of its kind in the country. As other jurisdictions across the country look to DC as an example, updating the Pay Equity Fund to account for experience will allow us to serve as a more equitable model for fairly compensating educators.

Use the reconvened Early Childhood Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force as an opportunity to address gaps and strengthen the Pay Equity Fund.

We are pleased that you have asked OSSE to reconvene the Early Childhood Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force, and I am glad to return as a member. As outlined above, there are many critical issues to remedy in the Pay Equity Fund so that the program is able to meet its goals. The Task Force’s success in addressing them will depend on its ability to select the most significant problems, leverage the necessary expertise, and give focused attention to identifying solutions.

Important to leveraging the necessary expertise is ensuring that proximity experts such as educators and early learning program operators are well-represented on the Task Force, including by adding 2-3 additional members. To do so, the Task Force should make reasonable accommodations to support their participation, including evening meetings, interpretation of meetings and translation of materials into Spanish prior to the meeting, and other accommodations that members may request.

As I will emphasize during my tenure on the task force, I strongly recommend that OSSE and the Task Force facilitator prioritize corrections to the funding formula first, as the ability of the Fund to cover the cost of increasing staff salaries is foundational to its success, CDF viability, equity, and ensuring that families bear no additional costs as educator salaries increase. With the remaining time, the task force should evaluate approaches and opportunities to pay educators according to a salary schedule that includes experience, and examine unintended consequences of the program including wage compression and pay inequities within child development facilities.

Finally, it is important that OSSE ensures that the Task Force holds two to four roundtables at the beginning of its work and throughout the year to ensure that it is guided by community needs, concerns, and expertise. Getting community input early and often will strengthen the final recommendations of the task force. 

Plan for cost pressures to the Pay Equity Fund.

The cost of implementing increased compensation for early childhood educators will increase beginning in FY25 and beyond. The drivers of the increase in cost are upcoming DCPS salary negotiations and increased early educator credentials. 

OSSE’s current Pay Equity Fund minimum salaries reflect DCPS’s most recent salary schedule. The FY25 budget should account for future increases. For example, the last two three-year negotiations between the Washington Teachers’ Union and DCPS resulted in nine percent and twelve percent salary increases for DCPS teachers, respectively. The average annual salary increase across the last two negotiations was three percent. Future contract negotiations will grow the cost of the Pay Equity Fund, as it must ensure pay parity between DCPS teachers and early educators.

Additionally, increased early educator credentialing requirements will grow the cost of the Pay Equity Fund. Due to OSSE’s minimum education requirements that begin in December and higher pay incentives built into the Pay Equity Fund, U3DC it is likely that educators will begin attaining higher credentials in greater numbers, which will translate into higher pay for educators. While the increase in the proportion of educators who have increased their education and credentials is not likely to reach 100% in FY 2025, OSSE should work to collect data and project growth likely to occur in future years.

Preserve health benefits for early childhood educators.

As the Council agreed when passing the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act of 2018 unanimously, and as the Task Force affirmed, parity for early childhood educators with DCPS teachers must include benefits. Thanks to the Council’s authorization for the use of PEF fund for health benefits, OSSE’s transfer of funds to the Health Benefits Exchange, and the Healthcare4ChildCare team’s diligent and creative work to design the program, inform child development facility administrators, and enroll CDF staff and their dependents, more than 1,500 people have affordable, high-quality healthcare, as of January 2024, according to the Health Benefits Exchange. This program is unprecedented in the country and other states are already looking to DC as a model for how to ensure that child care workers receive the health benefits they need and deserve.

The Pay Equity Fund is a historic investment in early educator pay and the quality of early childhood education. In funding and implementing this program, DC leads the nation in strengthening its early learning system, justly compensating the Black and brown women who make up the early educator workforce, and investing in the quality of early learning programs across the District. OSSE has led us in a strong first step to achieving our goals, and we look forward to working with the Division of Early Learning to continue growing and strengthening the program.

  1. The Task Force used Step 5 on the pay schedule as a proxy for average pay.