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

March 28, 2022
Person Testifying: Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen
Title: Director of Early Childhood Policy, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee of the Whole

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Council. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. My name is Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen and I am Director of Early Childhood Policy and Programs for DC Action, Coalition Director of Under 3 DC, and a member of the Early Childhood Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force.1

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.

Today, my remarks will focus on OSSE’s early learning budget and funding and legislation for the early educator pay equity fund.

I join my colleagues in the Under 3 DC coalition to ask that you ensure that OSSE’s FY 23 budget sustains all FY 22 funding for the child care subsidy program and preserve all projected revenue for the Pay Equity Fund for use on its intended purpose. My testimony also includes recommendations for codifying Task Force recommendations, provision of early educator benefits, and some early learning system financing concerns for FY 24 and beyond.

Protect the Pay Equity Fund 

Thank you, Chairman Mendelson for convening the Early Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force between October 2021 and March 2022. We also thank the DC Council – in particular Councilmembers Allen, Lewis George, Gray, Henderson, Nadeau, Silverman, Robert White, and Trayon White – for voting for a permanent revenue source to fund early educator compensation in the District. This investment is historic and leads the nation as an example of how states can invest in building equitable and sustainable systems that right historical wrongs. In particular, it is an important step in correcting the devaluation of the work of the primarily Black and brown women who care for and educate our society’s youngest learners.

The enacting legislation2 projects that the Pay Equity Fund (PEF) will be funded at $72.9 million in FY 23. It is our understanding that all of these funds are in the Mayor’s FY 23 proposed budget, and we urge the DC Council to maintain this funding level for the Pay Equity Fund in FY 23.3 Every cent of this funding is needed to fully implement compensation for early educators according to the mandate of the Birth-to-Three law – which defines compensation as pay and benefits – to build the systems necessary to implement the program, and to implement the equity adjustment recommended by the Task Force. According to the Task Force, the cost of system-wide implementation of the compensation program is projected to be between $52.6 and $54.8 million, first year administrative costs are likely to be approximately $6.6 million, leaving between $11.5 and $13.7 to cover the equity adjustment, described below. Further, the Task Force highlighted that it will be important to consider including the 349 child development program administrators in the compensation program, to prevent loss of leadership in early learning programs, and to consider an approach to providing affordable benefits to early educators.

Additionally, it’s important that the Council preserve the non-lapsing status of the Pay Equity Fund, at least in the initial years of implementation, until the program stabilizes. Given the number of recommended program components – including the aforementioned administrator participation in the program and provision of benefits – currently unlikely to be fully funded by the PEF with current revenue, and the many uncertainties about the costs of, timeline for, and participation in the new compensation program that will be built and scaled up in FY 23 and 24, all funds dedicated to compensation will be needed to achieve the vision of the Birth-to-Three law and the Task Force.

Legislate the recommendations of the Task Force, with specific attention to equity recommendations 

Last week, the Task Force submitted its recommendations to the DC Council.4 As a member of the Task Force, I fully support these recommendations, which are thoughtful, equity-oriented, and balance the needs of the sector, existing funding, and practical implementation concerns. We urge the Council to legislate their implementation without delay.

The recommendations we request the Council codify include:

  • Establish a grant program to licensed early learning programs designed to ensure that all educators receive pay in line with a recommended pay scale that is on par with DC Public Schools (DCPS) teacher pay, relative to educators’ role, education, credentials, and experience. Participating child development program would be required to demonstrate that educator salaries are in line with the minimums denoted in the scale.
  • Determine child development fund grant amounts using a formula based on the number of teachers at a facility, the difference between average proposed and average current pay, and an equity adjustment.
  • Streamline reporting requirements to minimize burden on providers.
  • Facilitate a regular forum for public feedback about the compensation program.
    • Require participating providers to transparently share their pay scale with staff.
    • Allow Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) as a form of identification.
    • Ensure that materials, communications, technical assistance, and all components of the program are accessible to program administrators and educators who are limited English proficient (LEP).
  • Provide technical assistance “to ensure that CDFs [child development facilities] have the administrative capacity to meet the requirements of the Pay Equity Fund.”
    • Ensure that programs receive pay in advance, since child development facility (CDF) cash flow is not likely to be able to accommodate pay increases without cash on hand.
    • Ensure that program grants can be adjusted throughout the year to account for staffing changes at early learning programs.
  • Require OSSE to collect data via the pay supplement applications to be used in developing the compensation program and an approach to publicly supported benefits for early educators.

We consider the recommended equity adjustment to be a particularly crucial component of the Task Force’s recommendations. This adjustment was designed “to prioritize investment in child development facilities serving historically marginalized communities and/or serving significant numbers of children receiving subsidies.”5 This funding enhancement would help mitigate current and historic inequities that make some early learning programs less likely to have the resources to meet the PEF’s salary requirements. We also believe that it could be a valuable tool to incentivize child care subsidy participation by child development facilities, thereby increasing access to and options for affordable early education and care, and laying the groundwork for the expansion of the child care subsidy program mandated by the Birth-to-Three law. Without it, programs may be disincentivized from participating in the subsidy program, thereby reducing access to affordable care for families facing the greatest barriers. We urge the Council and OSSE to adopt the recommended equity adjustment, use it to ensure that child development facilities serving children whose families participate in the subsidy program have access to well-trained and experienced educators, and monitor subsidy participation and take corrective action, if needed, to promote equity in DC’s early learning system.

Additionally, if the roll out of the compensation program is not likely to occur until more than halfway through FY 23, we encourage Council to consider an extension of pay supplements using the pay equity funds, to minimize the gaps that educators experience in compensation enhancement.

Finally, we ask that DC Council ensure that all educators, including undocumented and LEP educators, receive sufficient support to fulfill OSSE education requirements by the start of the compensation program and OSSE’s credentialing deadline, to investigate which populations may face undue barriers under current plans and address those barriers, and adjust credentialing deadlines and compensation plans to ensure that educators are not penalized for systemic barriers that may slow down or prevent degree attainment.

Ensure access to affordable benefits for early educators, as intended by the Birth-to-Three for All DC law 

The Birth-to-Three Law clearly defined compensation parity as “compensation for an individual that includes 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.”6 While the Task Force was only charged with developing pay recommendations, we recognized the critical importance of benefits in compensation for early educators. DC Action urges the DC Council to review the recommendations for provision of benefits – and particularly health care benefits – and work with the appropriate agencies and members of the early learning community to develop next steps.

Increasing pay is an important step in increasing the equity of our early learning system, but doing so without accounting for the impact of higher pay on early educators’ ability to participate in publicly financed health care would be short-sighted and could ultimately be detrimental to educators. Some educators could see pay increases that could bump them out of eligibility for public health insurance programs, or out of eligibility for some premium subsidies. These changes could ultimately mean that educators break even with higher pay and higher premiums, or actually see a reduction in pay by losing publicly financed subsidies.

Data is currently limited on the benefits early educators receive through their employers, and suggests that employer-provided benefits are not the norm in the early learning sector. While there may be a number of factors contributing to these circumstances, employer knowledge of/capacity for benefits provision and cost of benefits are likely significant contributors. The District must select a strategy or a combination of strategies that address these barriers and ensure that early educators truly benefit from the compensation program, as intended.

Finally, pay supplements through the Pay Equity Fund in FY 22 are likely to have implications for publicly subsidized health care for educators with the lowest salaries (prior to supplements). It is critical that educators have an abundance of language-accessible information in a diversity of formats about these implications, so that they can make the best possible decision for themselves and their families.

Looking to FY 2024: Protect Cost of Care after ARPA 

While we are awaiting additional detail on the Mayor’s budget, we believe it includes $10 million for early learning cost of care, as outlined in her plans for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. These funds have been vital for the continuation of DC’s ability to lead nationally in its cost-of-care approach to subsidy reimbursement to early learning programs, and have allowed OSSE to – more closely than ever before – reimburse early learning programs for what it actually costs to provide early education and care. Doing so was a key provision of the Birth-to-Three law, incentivizes program participation in the subsidy program, and gives young children from historically marginalized communities access to quality early learning, among other advantages.

We ask the Mayor and the Council to plan for the end of ARPA funding likely to occur in FY 24, and to prepare a plan to ensure continuation of this important component of our early learning system in FY 24 and beyond.

  1. Approximately $18m in funding do not appear in the Pay Equity Fund in the March 18, 2022 draft of the Mayor’s budget. However, Jenny Reed – Director of the Office of Budget and Performance Management – has stated publicly that this funding was mistakenly allocated in the child care subsidy budget and that the mistake will be corrected in the errata letter. 1 https://lims.dccouncil.us/downloads/LIMS/47312/Signed_Act/B24-0285-Signed_Act.pdf 2 https://code.dccouncil.us/us/dc/council/code/sections/1-325.431