Testimony of Ruqiyyah Abu-Anbar, OSSE, Budget Oversight Hearing, FY 2020
Testimony of Ruqiyyah Abu-Anbar
Director of Early Childhood Policy and Programs
DC Action for Children
Agency Budget Oversight Hearing
Fiscal Year 2020
Office of the State Superintendent of Education
Before the Committee of the Whole and the Committee on Education
Council of the District of Columbia
April 9, 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 budget for FY 2020. My name is Ruqiyyah Abu-Anbar, and I am the Director of Early Childhood Policy and Programs 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. We know that the richness of educational experiences from birth to age 8 can have a tremendous impact of the trajectory of a child’s life. The ability to read proficiently by the third grade is one of the best predictors of a student’s later academic success. That is because the third grade marks an important turning point when students transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Students who are not proficient readers by the end of 3rd grade often struggle to catch up and are four times more likely to drop out of school than those who read proficiently.
Over the years, DC Action has looked closely at the assessment results for the District’s third-graders. While no assessment captures the true ability and aptitude of students, these are tools that provide some insight into the learning experiences of children. In February 2016, DC Action released a policy brief examining trends in third grade reading performance in the District. Despite a wide array of educational reforms under the DC Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA), our analysis of DC CAS scores found that third grade reading proficiency did not improve for students citywide between 2007 and 2014. We also found a statistically significant decline in reading scores for economically disadvantaged and for Black/African-American third graders. As the District transitioned to the PARCC exam, we continued to see disparities in proficiency according to the test. The most recent PARCC results follow similar trends. In 2018, 30.8% of the District’s third graders scored a 4 or higher on the English/Language Arts portion of the test. While this represents an improvement from 2017, we should be taking aggressive actions to redesign our systems if less than one-third of students can meet the benchmarks that we set for all of our children. While we do not have third grade results disaggregated by race and gender, we do see dramatic differences across populations when looking at aggregate data for all ages. According to OSSE, 87.2% of white/Caucasian female students received a 4 or higher on English/Language Arts compared to 18.5% of Black/African-American males. This sharp contrast in test results should raise the alarm so that we do more to guarantee all of our children an education that will serve and empower them.
Luckily, we are learning more about brain science and how to mitigate the effects of systemic racism, adverse childhood experiences, and generational poverty on children’s development. By equipping parents with resources and supports and investing in high-quality services for young children, we can address the inequities we see in third grade. There is no single intervention; our approach must be multi-faceted and multi-generational. We know that you understand this because you and other members of the DC Council unanimously passed Birth-to-Three for All DC (B3 DC) last summer—a piece of legislation that seeks to create the most progressive and comprehensive early childhood system in the country. A strong infant/toddler component is necessary to build a solid and impactful birth-to-eight education pipeline.
The need for birth-to-three is urgent.
There are over 45,000 children under age 5 living in the District. Of these children, 71% are children of color and 25% are in families living below the poverty line, a figure varying widely by ward.  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. 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. 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.
Additionally, as we look to address the need of thousands of unique families in the District, it is important to offer alternatives for accessing early learning and parent supports to those who may not choose or have access to child care. B3 DC does just that: the law invests in high-quality, evidence-based early childhood home visiting at OSSE focused on early learning and wrap-around supports for two important populations: children in immigrant families and children in families experiencing homeless. We must honor the diversity of need and choice amongst District families and create opportunities for those who may need the most support. That is why it is critical that the District invest $4 million to support the development of these essential programs at OSSE.
The proposed FY2020 budget is a missed opportunity.
While the Mayor’s proposed FY2020 budget includes some investments in early childhood supports, we are disappointed to see that the budget does not include sufficient funding to implement B3 DC. The additional $5 million to increase subsidy reimbursements for early educators is needed, and we are pleased to see $52 million in capital investments to create new slots for early education. Capital investments are helpful, but without companion investments in the workforce, it will be difficult to staff those new slots. Moreover, this budget includes funding to make a child care tax credit permanent that does little to improve quality, accessibility or affordability for families. We think this budget presents a missed opportunity to create meaningful investments for long-term impact.
Moreover, this budget does not invest revenue from sports betting, as envisioned by the Council last year, into B3 DC or the NEAR Act. We are disappointed to see that the proposed Budget Support Act strikes language in the Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act of 2018 that directs revenue from taxation of sports wagering operators to B-3 for All DC and the NEAR Act. We hope that the Council will return these funds to these important laws aimed at supporting communities most impacted by structural racism. Furthermore, a larger pool of funds that the Council intended to be dedicated to B3 DC and the NEAR Act does not fund either law. The projected revenue that Councilmembers intended to dedicate B3 DC would have made significant strides in supporting development of a strong early childhood system unlike any other in the nation. We recognize that projected decreases in public revenue necessitate careful evaluation of funding priorities in FY 2020- however we believe that programs that address unmet needs of DC’s youngest residents are important and must be funded.
We believe the bold vision laid out through B3 DC is still the right path towards achieving better results for children and families across the District. 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 if want to guarantee children a strong foundation for literacy and lifelong learning.
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 that set a strong foundation and prepare them for success at the end of third grade and in the future.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.
 Fiester, Leila. (2013). “Early Warning Confirmed: A Research Update on Third-Grade Reading.” Retrieved from: https://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/AECF-EarlyWarningConfirmed-2013.pdf
 Vance, Tim. (2016). “Trends in Third Grade Reading Proficiency.” DC Action for Children. Retrieved from: https://dcactionforchildren.org/sites/default/files/DCACTION_Trendsin3rdgrdReading_FINAL.pdf
 Office of the State Superintendent of Education. (2018). “DC’s 2018 PARCC Results.” Retrieved from: https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/page_content/attachments/2018%20PARCC%20Results%20Release%20%28Aug.%2016%…
 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….
 Data via DC KIDS COUNT; Child population by race and age group. Source: Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from: https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/8446-child-population-by-race-and-age-group?loc=10&loct=3#detailed/3/any/false/871…
 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…
 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