Q: We’re here to talk about child care and early learning for children birth to three in the District. I’m the head of the Greater Washington Black Chamber; Kim Perry leads DC Action and the Under 3 DC Campaign. Kim, why are you talking to the Black Chamber about this?
A: What happens to children during their earliest years is a business issue. Early educators are as essential to businesses as IT, HR, or sales staff. If DC wants to attract businesses, enable employees to work, and support its youngest learners to do well, it needs to pay attention to what happens to children during the earliest years. As Gregory McCarthy, Senior Vice President of the Washington Nationals said, “Every moment an adult spends with a child is an opportunity for learning, and if we don’t take advantage of it, it’s a lost opportunity that’s hard to make up…Early education/child care is critical to the city overall and our own businesses.”
Q: I’ve heard from our members that child care is hurting their ability to fully re-open. How does early education affect the region’s business community?
A: Three ways:
- Early education and care is essential for parents to work. Demand for licensed spaces exceeded supply by up to 28,000 slots even before the pandemic. Child care closures and delayed reopenings have made it impossible for many parents to work. If the District wants to be a talent magnet for businesses and working parents, we need good quality early education and care.
- Early experiences profoundly affect children’s ability to learn and become productive adults. During pregnancy and the first three years of life the brain develops the physical architecture necessary to learn. As one research center put it, “Our health and wellbeing prenatally and during the first three years of life affect all future learning, behavior, and health.”
- Early care and education is an important business sector in its own right. A 2019 report found the District of Columbia had 1,299 child care businesses, employing more than 5,000 employees, with a total economic impact of $277 million.
Q: Why is this particularly important for the Black business community?
- Most of these businesses in the District are run by Black and Latinx women. Recent surveys show that child care businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic, and closures continue to block the District’s economic recovery.
- The pay is insufficient for the critical work they do. The average annual salary is $32,000 and doesn’t generally include health and retirement benefits. This contributes to high turnover, which makes it harder to build the nurturing relationships young children need.
- And, while all children need a good start, our Black and Brown children have the least access to high quality programs. In DC, the average monthly cost of care is over $2,000, unattainable for many young families.
Q: What’s happening in the District right now to fix this?
- The District implemented universal PreK over a decade ago, and then in 2018 the Council unanimously passed the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act, which will raise compensation for early educators, ensure that no family spends more than 10% of their income on child care for infants and toddlers, and expand important health programs.
- We can be a national model – but we need to fully implement the law. The DC Council has just started to substantially increase compensation for early educators, with $10,000 pay supplements for assistant teachers and $14,000 for lead teachers. This will reach about 3,400 teachers and be a great help in keeping teachers on the job.
- We are also asking for modest increases for proven health-related programs, such as behavioral health services and home visiting that provides social workers to support young families.
Q: How has the business community reacted?
A: Many champions have gotten involved – leaders such as Antwanye Ford, CEO of Enlightened and board Chair of the Black Chamber; Gregory McCarthy of the Washington Nationals; Bill Alsup, formerly at Hines (now retired); Barbara Lang of Lang Strategies; and prominent attorney Jim Sandman have made public statements in support. Mr. Ford called funding the birth-to-three programs “a win-win for everyone in the District, both now and in the future.”
Q: What should people do if they want to learn more?
A: We have created a network of business leaders who will consider invitations to take action, with our help. More information is at www.under3dc.org, with the business materials here. We invite anyone to contact us.