Investing in D.C.’s Children

High-quality childcare is essential to children, families, and the local economy. Science tells us that brain development in a child’s first three years provides the building blocks for all future learning, and that children deprived of appropriate stimulation in that crucial period will struggle to meet their full potential. With studies showing a $7.30 return (in health, education, and social service savings as well as additional tax revenue) for every dollar spent on high quality early care and education (ECE), the District should be strongly investing in such care for its infants and toddlers.

But the District isn’t doing that at the level it should. Despite the high costs to families, childcare businesses are barely breaking even, and nearly half of early childhood teachers depend on public benefits like Medicaid and food stamps to get by. In the District, an early educator can expect to make only around $26,900 per year. This low pay leads to high turnover rates among ECE workers, which undermines the District’s quality improvement initiatives. And while expectations for providers to improve the quality of their programs continue to go up, revenues aren’t keeping pace.

To learn how these challenges are affecting childcare workers, and to develop effective strategies to improve supports and compensation, DC Appleseed interviewed ECE professionals in all eight wards of the District. We asked about their personal circumstances, experience working in ECE, challenges, qualifications, and existing supports for their professional goals.

The survey results and accompanying recommendations are now online and you can read our full white paper ‘Results from a Survey of DC’s Early Childhood Education Workforce.’

Some of our key findings from our survey respondents–both expected and unexpected–include:

  • The District’s ECE workforce is composed mostly of women (91.6%), the majority of whom are Black (including 54% African American; and 6% African/Caribbean). The preponderance of women of color in this workforce makes increasing compensation a gender and racial equity issue.
  • While most of the educators surveyed had attended at least some college, a large proportion of the sample did not have the credentials necessary to meet the District’s new licensing rules, which will require Lead Teachers to hold an associate degree and center directors to hold a bachelor’s degree by 2020. For example, 46.8% of Lead Teachers of infants and toddlers would need to complete additional schooling.
  • Economic anxieties loom large among D.C.’s early educators: nearly 80% of our sample regularly worried about their ability to pay their monthly bills.
  • Despite these challenges, respondents are committed to the field. About 80% of both teachers and directors surveyed indicated that they intended to stay in the field for at least three more years.

In light of these findings and the critical need to better support the District’s children, DC Appleseed intends to testify before the D.C. Council next week in support of the Bolstering Early Growth Investment Amendment Act of 2017 (BEGIn Act) and the Infant Toddler Developmental Health Services Act of 2017. The bills propose increased reimbursement rates for childcare providers serving low-income families, and a competitive pay scale for teachers. They also propose to grow the supply of high-quality childcare by helping programs achieve the high standards of Early Head Start, and reward property owners who lease to childcare providers. We hope you’ll join us at the John A. Wilson Building on September 27.

If you can’t join us in person, you can still support DC Appleseed’s work to promote a high quality early care and education system. Read the full white paper here.

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