Hello Chair Mendelson and DC Councilmembers. My name is Martine Gordon. I am a resident of Ward 3, a working mom, and Vice President of Programs at Washington Area Women’s Foundation.
The Women’s Foundation is a community-supported foundation that invests in the power of women and girls of color in the region.
I want to talk today about educational infrastructure. DC has demonstrated a commitment to building up its overall education infrastructure. And while we know there is more work to be done, our public education system has a foundation on which to continue to build. In our current reality of pandemic and economic crisis, the question for parents with school-aged children is not if their kids will be able to return to school. It’s “when?”.
We do not, however, have an infrastructure like that for early education. We do not have the level of public investment needed to ensure infant and toddler classrooms will be able to re-open or stay open or to ensure early educators will be available to return to work.
The early education sector needs stronger public investment because, while early education is a public good, it is in crisis. As a society, we have relied on parents paying significant sums and early educators earning poverty wages to finance the system. Personally, I will share that childcare costs for my family in 2020 equated to about a quarter of my income. On the other side of things, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment reports that the poverty rate for early educators in DC is 34.4% – 5.8 times higher than for elementary school teachers.
The system doesn’t work for early educators, and it doesn’t work for families.
While DC has invested more in prek, in particular, than other jurisdictions across the country, it is time we dedicated the level of public funding necessary to create an early education infrastructure that meets our economic and education needs. Fully implementing the Birth-to-Three law can help set up that infrastructure.
I want to acknowledge the emergency response funding that Council and the Administration dedicated to early education programs. I also want to recognize OSSE’s leadership, during a time of public crisis and internal transition. I look forward to learning of OSSE’s updated child care subsidy plan, and hope that OSSE and intergovernmental partners are provided with the funding and support needed to make it easier for eligible families to obtain and retain their child care subsidies and for programs to receive subsidy payments timely and in a way that allows them to plan.
Like many, I also eagerly anticipate additional federal support for early care and education. My hope is that the emergency funding coming to DC will be turned quickly and provide flexibility to programs.
Thank you so much for allowing me this time today. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.
 For example, paying subsidies to programs based on enrollment instead of attendance to allow for stronger cash flow for programs and expanding the number of allowable absences for children to be able to stay home if sick but still keep their subsidy.
 If the funding is used to provide grants to licensed providers, I urge OSSE to ensure grant applications are simple, do not create unnecessary burdens to programs and that smaller programs and family child care providers have support in completing applications.