Agency Performance Oversight Hearing, Fiscal Year 2015, Office of the State Superintendent of Education

We recently testified during the FY16 Performance Oversight hearing for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.  Read our full remarks here:

 

Testimony of HyeSook Chung, Executive Director

DC Action for Children

 Agency Performance Oversight Hearing

Fiscal Year 2015

Office of the State Superintendent of Education

 Before the Committee on Education

Council of the District of Columbia

 February 17, 2016

Good afternoon, Councilmember Grosso and members of the Committee on Education. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council as it reviews the Office of the State Superintendent for Education’s performance in the past year. My name is HyeSook Chung, and I am the Executive Director at DC Action for Children and a parent of two DCPS students.

 

DC Action provides data analysis and policy leadership on issues facing DC children and youth. We are the home of DC KIDS COUNT, which tracks key indicators of child well-being in our city. Our advocacy agenda is based on these data.

 

My testimony today will focus on OSSE’s efforts to build a quality early childhood system of care for infants and toddlers in the District of Columbia.

 

Great Need in the District for Expanded Access to and Improved Quality of Early Care and Education

 

Early care and education for children aged birth to three is a critical component of our educational pipeline and must be our next significant investment as a city. The District has seen its population of young children under the age of three increase by more than 35 percent between 2004 and 2014.[1] Of those approximately 26,500 children, nearly 40 percent live in low-income families[2] and over half live in homes headed by single parents.

 

The science of brain development tells us that the infant and toddler years are among the most critical for healthy brain development, and time spent in a high-quality nurturing social and educational environments during those years will be an asset throughout a child’s life, resulting in improved cognitive abilities and important behavioral traits such as self-esteem, sociability, and motivation. Investments in quality early care and education for children aged birth to three pay off enormously for entire communities, measured by improved college performance, higher income and lower incarceration rates.

 

High-quality child care for infants and toddlers is vitally important to working families of all income levels in DC, but it is especially beneficial to young children from low-income families. We know that the academic achievement gaps begin early in life, before children even start prekindergarten and that low-income children are most likely to enter Pre-K already behind their peers. As of FY2015, 5,096 infants and toddlers were enrolled in subsidized care out of the estimated 10,440 living in low-income families.

 

However, not all child care programs are capable of providing a high enough level of care to support infants and toddlers living in low-income families. Research suggests that a moderate - to high-quality learning environment is the minimum required to produce an association with positive pre-academic, social-emotional, and behavioral outcomes.[3] Unfortunately, many child care facilities do not have the supports they need to provide this high level of care. This is why it is critical that child care providers have the resources necessary to strive for improved quality to serve and support our city’s children.

 

The recent release of the 2015 NAEP provided more evidence of the substantial improvements in performance for DC students over the last decade. Today, the math proficiency rate for DC fourth graders is over four-times larger than in 2003, and the reading proficiency rate has nearly tripled over the same time. It should be no surprise that DC’s rising NAEP scores have closely mirrored the expansion of the city’s public PreK program. If we want these trends to continue, we must build upon the successes of DC’s universal pre-k program by ensuring that the city’s infants and toddlers also have access to high quality early care and education.

 

Identifying the Costs of Quality Child Care

The District is one of the first localities to take advantage of a new provision in the reauthorized law that allows for the use of a cost model analysis to determine 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 now, 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 did little to improve the quality of child care.

 

The preliminary findings from the cost model analysis provide quantitative evidence that for most child care providers, it is extremely difficult to provide high quality care to low-income children and break-even; the increased subsidy reimbursements they receive with higher quality ratings do not cover the expenses associated with improving program quality. In fact, the analysis found that under the current subsidy reimbursement rates, a small child center with a gold QRIS rating that serves low-income infants and toddlers would have an estimated budget shortfall of over $200,000.

 

The cost model approach is similar to that used in adequacy studies – including the one completed in 2013 by the District that resulted in the new at-risk poverty rate – which are used to determine the resources necessary to provide an adequate education to students in K-12 systems. While the adequacy study’s methodology may differ in some ways from cost modeling, the underlying logic is the same; if we want to build quality programs for children, we need to understand their true cost. We applaud OSSE for their leadership to understand they true cost of children and hope they use these findings as the impetus to think creatively of providing a broad range of resources to encourage providers to improve their quality rating without risking financial instability.

 

Building a System of Quality Care for Infants and Toddlers

A truly comprehensive system of care for infants and toddlers involves much more than quality child care programs. In order to fully support infants and toddlers and their families, we must ensure they have access to home visiting programs, quality maternal and child health services and parenting supports. It is critical that the city harness the collective impact of a broad range of agencies so that the services for infants and toddlers are aligned and coordinated to have the highest possible impact.

 

Fortunately, the city is taking some important steps towards building a comprehensive system of early care and education for infants and toddlers. In particular, we commend OSSE for their support of the Quality Improvement Network (QIN) – a multi-year funded initiative that uses the resources of the DC government agencies that fund and/or support infants and toddlers and their families to provide participants with the full range of wrap-around services. These services are aligned with Early Head Start standards and a research-based classroom curriculum to help young children develop the skills necessary to succeed continuously. With the goal of adding 1,000 new high quality slots for infants and toddlers in the next five to ten years, the QIN provides a model for expanding both child care access and quality in DC.

 

DC Action is working in partnership with the national BUILD[4] Initiative to evaluate the implementation of the new QIN model, to ensure that it is as effective as possible, and that its implementation is aligned with the District’s larger birth to five system. This three-year evaluation will help stakeholders in the QIN network understand the challenges associated with scaling-up the program and communicate to policy makers the effectiveness of resources invested in the innovative program. The evaluation is currently underway and we look forward to sharing ongoing results with this committee.

 

Assessing Quality in Child Care Through the QRIS

Beginning in 2007, significant federal and local dollars have been invested in revising the city’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). Under this revision process, OSSE has been working to establish a rating system that is focused on child outcomes by incorporating new quality assessment instruments. The new QRIS will provide a common measure of quality that can be applied across the District’s early care and education system and will require all licensed child care programs to participate in QRIS rating. Given the importance of early childhood care and education, and the substantial investments already made to revise the QRIS, it is encouraging that the District’s CCDF draft plan indicates that the new QRIS will be piloted in 2016 with the goal of fully implementing the rating system in 2017. The new QRIS will provide critical information to both parents and policy makers and we look forward to learning more about how OSSE will use the new QRIS to both measure and improve the quality of child care programs serving infants and toddlers in the District. 

 

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: US Census Bureau. Accessed at: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/101-child-population-by-age-group?loc=10&loct=3#detailed/3/any/false/869,36,15,14/6…

[2]U.S. Census Bureau, 2014 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates; Age by Ratio of Income to Poverty Level in the Past 12 Months Accessed at: http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_14_1YR_B17024&prodType=table

[3] Zaslow, M., Anderson, R., et al . (2010). Quality dosage, thresholds, and features in early childhood settings: a review of the literature (OPRE Report #2011-5). Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department Health and Human Services. Retrieved from, http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/resource/quality-dosage-thresholds-and-features-in-early-childhood-settings-a-0

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