Bringing Gold-Medal Child Care to All DC Families

Editor’s note: Bonnie, who was DC Action’s 2012 Education Pioneers fellow this summer, drafted this blog post before she finished her fellowship in August.

This summer, Team USA brought home plenty of gold and silver from the 2012 Olympics, representing the top levels of athletic achievement. According to DC Action’s new Data Snapshot, “Improving Child Care Options for All DC Children,” too few child care providers in DC are at the top of their game when it comes to child care for children ages 0-3. Only 33 percent of child development centers and 13 percent of child care homes won “Gold” in 2011 according to DC’s “Going for the Gold” Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). Unlike the Olympics, this is a race where everyone could – and should – achieve gold.

High-quality child care is important for our city’s economic future. It can:

•    Ensure young children start kindergarten ready to learn.
•    Reduce the achievement gap.
•    Support all working parents, but especially low-income families.
•    Strengthen the economic vitality of the District by building the foundation for future workforce productivity.
•    Reduce high costs of intervention services that can occur later in life if children’s needs aren’t met during their formative years.
Federal grant funds subsidize child care services for low-income families, however, our snapshot finds that centers and home-based providers that receive subsidies have the capacity to serve fewer than half of infants and toddlers living below the poverty line in Wards 1, 5, 6, 7 and 8.

It will be difficult to expand capacity when subsidies do not keep up with the market: market rates in DC outstrip the subsidy reimbursement rates by over $20 per child, per day.

“Going for the Gold” was meant to provide incentives for subsidized programs to improve themselves, by reimbursing “Gold” and “Silver” standard programs at higher rates than “Bronze.” After 10 years of the program, DC is now considering changes. While city officials go back to the drawing board, DC Action recommends that the city:

•    Ensure that our local standards are clearly aligned and transparent for providers and families
•    Give providers incentives to improve no matter their quality level, including incentives for high-quality centers to expand in neighborhoods that need services
•    Eliminate barriers to entry for new high-quality child care businesses in high-need neighborhoods
•    Bring reimbursement for “Gold” standard programs closer to market rates

High-quality child care options in all DC’s neighborhoods will support working families and get children off on the right start to ensure our city’s future economic vitality and workforce excellence.

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