Agency Budget Oversight Hearing, Fiscal Year 2019, Office of the State Superintendent of Education

Testimony of Shana Bartley, Acting Executive Director

DC Action for Children

 

Agency Budget Oversight Hearing

Fiscal Year 2019

Office of the State Superintendent of Education

 

Before the Committee on Education

                                                Council of the District of Columbia         

 

April 24, 2018

 

Good morning, Councilmember Grosso and members of the Committee on Education. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council as it reviews the proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE).  My name is Shana Bartley, and I am Acting Executive Director at DC Action for Children (DC Action).

DC Action provides data analysis and policy leadership on critical issues facing DC children and youth. We envision a District of Columbia where all children, regardless of their race/ethnicity, family’s income or zip code, have the opportunity to reach their full potential. We are the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child well-being in the District. I also serve as a commissioner on the State Early Childhood Development Coordinating Council (SECDCC).

DC Action joins other members of the Birth-to-Three Policy Alliance to testify about the importance of building a robust early care and education system in the District. There are almost 44,000 children under 5 living in the District.[1] Of these children, the majority are children of color and 19% are in families living below the poverty line, a figure varying widely by ward. [2],[3] Research shows that children’s participation in high-quality early learning programs can reduce wide achievement gaps between children in low-income families and their peers. Moreover, when children have nurturing relationships and high-quality interactions with caregivers, their chances at lifelong success increase drastically. We have the opportunity to increase access to equitable and affordable early care and education opportunities through the FY19 budget. By making strategic investments now and thoughtfully planning for the future, DC can continue national leadership in early learning.

My testimony today emphasizes how critical the FY19 budget is to ensure that the District has strong and robust supports for young children and their families:

  1. The language in the FY19 Budget Support Act of 2018 demonstrates progress to a child-centered early childhood system.
  2. The proposed $10,000,000 investment to raise reimbursement rates for providers serving children and families participating in the child care subsidy program strengthens the core of our early learning field.
  3. The enactment and funding of the Birth-to-Three For All DC Act of 2018 this fiscal year charts a clear path forward for strengthening infant and toddler care.  

 

1) The language in the FY19 Budget Support Act of 2018 demonstrates progress to a child-centered early childhood system.

Early care and education for children aged birth to three is a critical component of our educational system and must be our next significant investment as a city. If the District hopes to meaningfully address learning gaps when they begin, infants and toddlers must have access to quality child care programs that support their development. This requires that we shift both our paradigm and practice regarding access to quality early learning opportunities for children of color and children in low-income families.

For years, many viewed the federal child care subsidy program as a vital support for parents with young children. If parents had access to consistent child care, they would be able to pursue their education, complete job training, and/or sustain employment. However, we know that high quality early learning programs makes a tremendous difference in the lives of little ones during a critical time of brain development that sets the foundation for their future success. The child care subsidy program is not a work support for parents—it is an essential resource that connects children in low-income families to opportunities that facilitate their healthy growth and development. Without this program, many DC children might not have access to rich and nurturing learning environments. Federal rules regarding the child care subsidy do not adequately reflect the educational value of child care. The Child Care and Development Fund requires that parents engage in a qualifying work activity; while the language grants states some flexibility, it ultimately excludes children and families who could potentially benefit.

Therefore, DC Action and our colleagues in the Birth-to-Three Policy Alliance would prefer a blanket inclusion of all children in low-income families in the Subsidy program, regardless of parents’ work or education activities. We are glad that the FY19 Budget Support Act of 2018 (BSA) codifies OSSE’s practices for implementing the subsidy program. While rules do not allow OSSE to use federal subsidy dollars for all children in low-income families, local dollars can support this goal. Therefore, we make the following recommendations to revise the definitions within the BSA:

  • Qualifying Activity
    • Eliminate or significantly extend the time limit for adults enrolled in adult education or training programs.  Many participants who navigate our education system with low –literacy will be unable to complete GED or similar programs with-in current limits.
    • Include low-income families where only one parent is in the workforce (up to 85% of the area median income (AMI))
  • Vulnerable child

“Vulnerable” children should also include:

    • Children born to young parents up to age 21;
    • Immigrant children whose families do not qualify for services due to citizenship status.

 

While these changes would ensure more children could benefit from quality early learning, our ultimate goal should be universal access. A report published earlier this year from the National Academies titled “Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education” recommends a more inclusive approach. Access to early learning should not be contingent on caregivers’ characteristics like family income or employment status.[4] While we know it will take tremendous effort and resources to achieve this goal, we should aspire to create a system that serves all families with high-quality options. That is the only way that we can truly create a child-centered system.

2)  Maintain and plan to build on Mayor Bowser’s $10,000,000 investment to raise reimbursement rates for providers serving children and families participating in the child care subsidy program.

The District was one of the first localities to take advantage of a new provision in the reauthorized CCDF law that allows for the use of a cost model analysis to inform child care reimbursement rates. Cost modeling is an early childhood financial analysis approach that estimates the actual cost of delivering child care services at different levels of quality. Until recently, the subsidy rate has been set using market studies, which involve identifying the price that providers are able to charge – an amount that is often dictated by how much parents are willing to pay rather than the quality of care provided. Not surprisingly, this approach has not resulted in improvement in the quality of child care.

The findings from the first cost model analysis, which were released in March 2016, showed that it is extremely difficult to provide high-quality care to low-income children and keep your center running. The analysis found that under the 2016 subsidy reimbursement rates, a small child development center that serves infants and toddlers in low-income families would have a predicted budget shortfall of over $200,000 if they were to meet all the requirements necessary to earn a gold rating on the District’s former Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). We are glad to hear that OSSE is going to revise this cost model this year to reflect changes and the new infant rate. The new $10,000,000 investment included in Mayor Bowser’s budget proposal allows OSSE to adjust subsidy reimbursement rates to levels that encourage providers to improve their quality rating without risking financial instability. 

This is an admirable step toward aligning the subsidy reimbursement rate with the cost of providing quality care that children deserve.

Additionally, we also celebrate that our special education improvements passed in 2014 are fully-funded in this budget. Expanding eligibility for early intervention better supports children and families and is financially prudent as costs of special education and remediation services increase as children get older. We are glad to see strong investments in for our youngest residents in the proposed FY19 budget.

3) The enactment and funding of the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act of 2018 this fiscal year charts a clear path forward for strengthening infant and toddler care across the District. 

DC Action would like to commend you and your team, Councilmember Grosso, for working with Councilmember Gray and the Committee on Health to get the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act of 2018 before the Committee of the Whole. The legislation lays the foundation for a comprehensive early childhood system. As a member of the Birth-to-Three Policy Alliance, we support this legislation and implore the DC Council to enact and fund the legislation this year.

The bill contains many noteworthy provisions, and I would like to highlight a few key early learning items here:

  1. Expands the Quality Improvement Network (QIN)

In partnership with the national BUILD Initiative, DC Action serves as the systems evaluators of the QIN. Over the last few years, I have heard how participation in the QIN has changed provider practice. While DC Action does not engage families for our specific portion of the evaluation (the other evaluators do), I am hopeful that families will be here today to share their experiences. QIN expands access to high quality early learning by leveraging shared knowledge and resources and deepening relationships. The expansion of QIN will be key to further growing the supply and quality of early care and education programs.

  1. Aligns subsidy reimbursement rates with the cost of quality

As mentioned earlier in this testimony, current reimbursement rates for the child care subsidy program do not align with the cost of providing quality care. This bill proposes a new strategy to ensure that subsidy reimbursements cover the cost of care and provide adequate compensation for early childhood educators.

  1. Strengthens workforce compensation and development

The District recently set higher education requirements for early childhood educators. Therefore, we must create a salary scale that increases compensation as teachers receive higher credentials and advanced training. Early childhood educators require parity with other teachers to sustain a highly-skilled workforce. The new salary scale must be attached to increased funding for programs to ensure that teachers receive the higher compensation they need.

DC Action for Children commends OSSE, under the leadership of Superintendent Hanseul Kang and Assistant Superintendent of Early Learning Elizabeth Groginsky, and this committee for its work in support of the District’s early care and education system. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

 

 

[1] Data via DC KIDS COUNT; Child population by age group. Source: Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/101-child-population-by-age-group?loc=10&loct=3#detailed/3/any/false/870,573,869,36….

[2] Data via DC KIDS COUNT; Children by Race and Age Group; Source: US Census Bureau. Accessed at: https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/8446-child-population-by-race-and-age-group?loc=10&loct=3#detailed/3/any/false/870…

[3] Data via DC KIDS COUNT; Children in Poverty by Age Group; Source: US Census Bureau. Accessed at: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/5650-children-in-poverty-by-age-group?loc=10&loct=3#detailed/3/10,55-56,58-61,64-77…

 

[4] The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2018). Consensus Study Report Highlights: Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education. Washington, DC. Retrieved from: http://sites.nationalacademies.org/cs/groups/dbassesite/documents/webpage/dbasse_184857.pdf

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