Public Hearing on “Early Learning and Early Care in the District of Columbia”

Testimony of HyeSook Chung, Executive Director, DC Action for Children

Public Hearing on “Early Learning and Early Care in the District of Columbia

Before the Committee on Education Council of the District of Columbia

Good morning, Councilmember Grosso and members of the Committee on Education. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the subject of “Early Learning and Early Care in the District of Columbia.” My name is HyeSook Chung, and I am the Executive Director of DC Action for Children, a DC resident and the proud parent of two DC public school 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. 

 

DC Action for Children commends this committee for its work in support of the District’s early care and education system and this hearing’s focus on improving access to high-quality, affordable child care. Quality early care and education for children aged birth to three is a critical component of the District of Columbia’s educational pipeline and must be our next significant investment as a city.

 

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

There is both a great need and a great opportunity to focus on early care and education for the District of Columbia’s youngest children. The District has seen its birth to five population increase 35 percent between 2004 and 2014.[1] Of these 43,000 children, nearly 40 percent live in low-income families[2] and over half live in homes headed by single parents. Approximately 26,500 are under three-years old.[3]

 

We know that low-income children are more likely to enter Pre-K without the skills they need to succeed than their more affluent peers. To meaningfully address learning gaps when they begin, infants and toddlers must have access to quality early care and education programs, including quality center-based child care, home visitation and early intervention. High-quality early care and education for infants and toddlers is vitally important to families of all income levels in DC, but it is especially beneficial to young children from low-income families.

 

State of Early Care and Education System for Infants and Toddlers in DC

Too many DC families are unable to find high-quality early care and education programs for their infants and toddlers. In many neighborhoods, there are simply not enough of these services; in others, families are unaware of services for which they are eligible. As of FY2014, 4,236 infants and toddlers were enrolled in subsidized care out of an estimated 10,440 living in low-income families. 

 

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. 

 

Next Steps for Developing DC’s System of Early Care and Education for Infants and Toddlers

While some may argue that raising the child care subsidy reimbursement rate is the most effective way to expand access to quality child care for infants and toddlers, our city’s recent experience suggests that the issue is much more complicated. The city raised its subsidy reimbursement rates in both 2006 and 2013, and they are currently among the highest in the country, yet quality and access continue to be challenges for our child care system. Over the next three to five years, we will need to increase our investment in order to build a comprehensive system supporting the health and educational needs of the birth to three population. But we also need to be smarter about how we spend our resources.

 

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 this committee for its 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. We have recently launched this work and look forward to sharing ongoing results with this committee.

 

[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] Data via DC KIDS COUNT; Children in Single-Parent Families; Source: US Census Bureau. Accessed at: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/106-children-in-single-parent-families?loc=10&loct=3#detailed/3/10/false/36,868,867…

 

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