Council Testimony: OSSE Performance Oversight Hearing, FY 2018-2019

Council Testimony

Testimony of Shana Bartley, Executive Director

DC Action for Children

 

Agency Performance Oversight Hearing

Fiscal Year 2018-2019

Office of the State Superintendent of Education

 

Before the Committee of the Whole and the Committee on Education

 Council of the District of Columbia         

 

February 21, 2019

 

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Grosso and members of the committees. 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 Shana Bartley, and I am executive director at DC Action for Children.

Since 1992, DC Action for Children has served as a leading voice working on behalf of DC children and families. Through research and advocacy for equitable policies, we work to ensure that all DC children have the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of their race/ethnicity, zip code or family’s income. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child well-being in the District.

DC Action is grateful to join with 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. I am also grateful to serve on DC’s State Early Childhood Development Coordinating Council (SECDCC).  There are over 45,000 children under age 5 living in the District.[1] Of these children, 25% are in families living below the poverty line, a figure varying widely by ward. [2] As the population of young children continues to grow, it is critical that the city remains focused on increasing access to equitable and affordable early care and education opportunities.

During Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019, OSSE’s Division of Early Learning made tremendous progress on the implementation of a number of programs and initiatives that we have highlighted over the last few \years. Their continued commitment to collaboration and system-building is yielding results, and we must leverage this momentum to make even more gains for our youngest residents. Over the last year, the District has taken significant steps to becoming the state with the most progressive early childhood system in the country. This is a critical moment for all of us, so my testimony today focuses on two major points:

  1. We must ensure that OSSE and the other agencies have the resources and personnel needed to implement Birth-to-Three for All DC.
  2. The Preschool Development Grant allows the District to establish a strategic plan and vision for getting our youngest residents ready for kindergarten.

 

1) The Birth-to-Three for All DC (B3 DC) law is a game-changer. We must ensure that OSSE and the other agencies have the resources and personnel needed to implement it.

Over the last year, this Council and the Mayor have made unprecedented investments in programs for families with infants and toddlers and the educators that serve them. Moreover, the Council charted a bold path forward for the District’s early childhood system by unanimously passing the Birth-to-Three for All legislation in June 2018. Provisions within the legislation build on many of OSSE’s existing programs and set targets for expanding important services that promise to improve outcomes for children and their families. It is imperative that this landmark legislation receives funding and that lessons from our ongoing implementation inform expansion and scaling of all programs and initiatives.

This Council and other stakeholders across the District are well aware that the demand for child development and early learning programs far exceeds the supply, with a shortage of 28,000 slots for infants and toddlers alone.[3] B3 DC seeks to remedy this by increasing quality in all programs and better supporting the workforce with competitive wages and benefits. These are both key steps to growing the supply of high-quality slots available for families. These components of the legislation augment much of the ongoing work within the Division of Early Learning.

We commend OSSE for focusing on quality through a variety on initiatives including the Quality Improvement Network and roll out of the new Quality Rating Improvement System. B3 DC expands the QIN District-wide by 2028; there are many lessons from the first five years of implementation that can inform this expansion. DC Action serves as the systems evaluator for the QIN; our research describes how QIN has evolved over time as a systems-building initiative. We see stronger partnerships and collaborations across District agencies and community-based organizations emerging to better serve needs identified in child development settings and their communities.  Based on our work to date, we know that the QIN is a promising model, and we encourage those invested in early care and education to continue following the development and expansion of the QIN over the next few years.  DC Action anticipates that scaling of the QIN, particularly to areas of higher need, will yield positive results for young children and their families.

Additionally, B3 DC ensures that educators serving the youngest children receive competitive compensation for their work. Despite the critical role that early childhood educators play in ensuring the healthy development of children, here in the District, the average salary of those teaching our youngest children is $29,450 annually or about $14 an hour.[4] These educators also rarely receive additional benefits like health care or retirement plans.[5] Inadequate compensation for skills and credentials leads to high turnover in child care centers and homes, putting additional stress on such a system we so fervently depend upon. 

While higher compensation could facilitate improved recruitment and retention of early childhood education teachers, child care directors cannot afford to pay higher salaries. We applaud OSSE for its efforts to incentivize teachers to attain higher degrees; however, there is more work to be done to ensure that teachers receive adequate compensation. We look forward to the completion of a salary scale that establishes compensation parity for infant and toddler teachers with other educators.  Though we know that financing early childhood programs is challenging, we ask that you ensure that such a salary scale is also attached to increased funding for programs.  

With the expectation of service expansions and growth in the early childhood system, we must ensure that the agencies have the necessary resources and personnel to manage programming and initiatives. B3 DC will require a significant long-term investment, but our children deserve access to the highest quality nurturing environments possible. We have the opportunity to lead the country in investing in this public good.

2)  With the Preschool Development Grant, the District has a tremendous opportunity to lay out a strategic plan and vision for all DC children to enter school ready to learn.

In late 2018, the District won a $10.6 million Preschool Development Grant. This unique federal grant seeks to strengthen birth-to-five mixed delivery systems with a particular focus on improving quality and supporting parent choice. Many of us are still celebrating; the District received one of the largest grants in the country. The PDG provides an opportunity to firm up our existing resources and create a strategic plan that accounts for state and federal programming.

Additionally, the District’s PDG award includes some funding to explore the feasibility of creating additional infrastructure to support data sharing among birth-to-five programs. Young children in the District currently receive services from a matrix of local and federal agencies and programs whose internal data systems cannot communicate.[6] While OSSE has already established the Student Longitudinal Educational Data System (SLED) to track student-level education data, PreK-12, there is no comparable system for younger children. For years, stakeholders have discussed the value of an Early Childhood Integrated Data System (ECIDS). We are happy to report that plans for an ECIDS appeared in both the District’s CCDF Plan and PDG application.

Families with young children are touched by many different programs and DC currently lacks a data system capable of answering critical policy questions pertaining to our youngest citizens. Because of this, DC Action believes the implementation of a fully functional ECIDS would allow stakeholders to compare District-wide baseline child-level data to data of children receiving specific programs. Equipped with a more complete, longitudinal picture of the early childhood landscape that the ECIDS would provide, stakeholders could think and invest more strategically in programs that focus on narrowing the opportunity gap and ensuring that children receive developmentally appropriate health, behavioral and developmental screening and services. Effective implementation of an ECIDS would empower policymakers in the District to improve program quality, promote a strong early care and education workforce, increase access to high-quality programs and improve child outcomes.[7]

With so many incredible efforts in the early childhood space, it is important that we take time to focus on developing systems that are truly family-centered. This includes ensuring that family need and preference guide our efforts. The Preschool Development Grant requires a needs assessment to inform the creation of DC’s strategic plan. This is a great opportunity to understand what families want for their children so that our birth-to-five system is truly responsive to those it intends to serve. We look forward to joining with our partners, OSSE and their sister agencies in efforts to engage parents, caregivers, and community members in the needs assessment and strategic planning process. This will be vital to achieve the equitable outcomes that we seek.

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: https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/101-child-population-by-age-group?loc=10&loct=3#detailed/3/any/false/871,870,573,8….

[2] Data via DC KIDS COUNT; Children in Poverty by Age Group; Source: US Census Bureau. Accessed at: https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/5650-children-in-poverty-by-age-group?loc=10&loct=3#detailed/3/any/false/871,870,5…

[3] Bainum Family Foundation. (2018). Early Learning Supply & Demand in the District of Columbia. Retrieved from: https://bainumfdn.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Bainum_EL-Supply-Demand-Report_FNL_Nov-2018.pdf

[4] ChildCare Aware. (2017). 2017 State Child Care Facts in the State of District of Columbia. Retrieved from: http://usa.childcareaware.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/DC_Facts.pdf.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bartley, S., Lloyd, A., Dean, E., & Abu-Anbar, R. (2017). Piecing together: Completing the early childhood system puzzle in the District. DC Action for Children. Retrieved from: https://www.dcactionforchildren.org/sites/default/files/Piecing%20Together_FINAL_0.pdf.

Disqus comments