Courtesy photo

A group of business owners, advocates and researchers now have until the spring to compile and present recommendations specifying how the District government disburses funds that make early child care educators’ pay equal to that of District public school teachers.  

Earlier this month, the D.C. Council agreed to give the Early Childhood Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force until April to hammer out the details of a compensation system that substantially raises the salaries of early childhood educators in accordance with their role, credentials and on-the-job experience. 

The task force’s formation follows the funding of the Birth-to-Three For All DC Act which mandates wage parity for early child care educators but didn’t quite determine how it would come to fruition. 

With more than $120 million budgeted toward this effort over the next two years, task force members have expressed a commitment to approaching the issue with as much nuance as possible. 

“By the end of the task force, we would have produced recommendations that will start an early educator compensation program. There’s nothing like that in the country,” said Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen, a task force member and director of the DC Under 3 coalition, which advocated for the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act’s funding last budget season. 

Anbar-Shaheen counts among a cadre of program leaders, association directors, teachers, university researchers and economists who serve on the task force. Former Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith serves as a third-party facilitator. 

The task force has been scheduled to issue preliminary recommendations to the D.C. Council on Jan. 15 that will determine how the city allocates $53 million this fiscal year. The submission of another set of recommendations in April concerns $73 million set aside for the next fiscal year. 

By the fall, when the District enters a new fiscal year, early childhood educators should expect a bonus as an acknowledgment of their work during the pandemic. Shortly after, the pay increases would go into effect. 

“It’s an exciting opportunity to start paying the teachers caring for little kids closer to their worth,” Anbar-Shaheen said. “In Chocolate City, where many of our Black and brown teachers are not able to afford to live here, I’m excited about this. The funds are sitting in a bank account and once the legislation is updated, they can use them.” 

Establishing a Timeline to Spend Funds 

Data shows that the average base salary of an early childhood education educator in D.C. stands at $36,700, or less than $19 per hour. Throughout the pandemic, much of the advocacy for the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act highlighted the struggles of community child care facilities to attract top-notch talent and maintain services. 

For months, the Early Childhood Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force, in conjunction with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education [OSSE], debated how the salary scale created by the local agency would best create a pathway to compensate teachers for experience. Another aspect that dominated conversations among task force members involved program oversight and how best to hold the District accountable to early childhood education workers. 

During a Jan. 04 legislative meeting, council members unanimously approved the extension of the task force’s deadline. Moments earlier, council members expressed concerns about, with the extension, whether OSSE would be allowed to disperse the funds allocated for this fiscal year before D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser submits the budget for the next fiscal year.  

In speaking about the task force’s importance, D.C. Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson (D) called it a piece of a puzzle to create an environment where young people receive a quality education at every point in their lives. 

He said the task force, and Birth-to-Three for All DC Act, builds upon D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray’s work throughout the 2000s to expand preschool access.  

“Most people think of early child care as nothing more than daycare, but it’s actually education,” Mendelson said. “In order to attract and retain early childhood educators, we need to make the compensation system better. The issue of better pay is critical to ensuring that we have top-quality early childhood care.” 

Allowing Room for All Child Care Centers to Grow 

For Cynthia Davis, early child care educator compensation has also become a matter of maintaining longevity in the industry. 

Davis, owner of Kings and Queens Childcare in Northwest and an Early Childhood Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force appointee, said home-based family child care centers like the one she runs often receive significantly less in OSSE subsidies than their counterparts who operate child development programs in centers and schools. This affects her bottom line and her ability to grow the capacity of her business. 

As the number of clients grows, OSSE regulations require her to hire more workers, which becomes an arduous battle in balancing a small budget that affects her bottom line and ability to expand the capacity of her business. 

That’s why Davis has spent much of her time highlighting this challenge and fighting to ensure equity for home-based child development centers – often referred to as “family child care.”

“We shouldn’t have to use our retirement and other income to sustain our businesses. Government funding for child care should be evenly distributed, regardless of the setting,” said Davis, who’s also executive director of the DC Family Child Care Association. 

“If this pay increase actually happens, it will affect family child care in a way that has never happened,” she said. “Home-based child development programs have never been equally supported in legislation like this before and now we’re being included.”

“It’s an exciting moment in time. Hopefully, as we continue to advocate for the field of early childhood education, there will be an increase in compensation and respect for the educators in this profession,” Davis said.

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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