A 13-year-old ‘Rock Star’ with a Vision…

This month, one of our 2021 Rock Star Fund awardees Aras Tobin, 13, launched a vision board party and combined this with an opportunity to apply for high schools with members of her class. 

Young people are surviving unimaginable feats in the midst of this global pandemic. Despite our current lived realities, youth, like Aras Tobin, are taking strides to ensure that community needs are being met. As Aras plans to apply to high school this year, she recognizes the need for a vision to tackle her goals this year – she also recognizes that her peers need this too. This month, she co-ordinated a vision board party for her peers and incorporated completing high school applications. She knows that this is an area of stress for many of her peers and will make it a fun and enjoyable experience. 

Example of Vision Board

A vision board encourages participants to use magazine pictures, drawings, and other visual representations to demonstrate goals set for a period of time. They are highly effective in being a physical and creative reminder of what you want to accomplish. Incorporating a tangible goal such as high school applications, allows the goal to be measured and builds a community during an already stressful time. This event, amongst other initiatives that Aras planned, is being supported by the Rock Star Fund through Washington Area Women’s Foundation. Aras, 13, is one of the youngest Rock Star Awardees to date. 

“It’s important that women have equal access to education and roadmaps of opportunities that are available to them. Without proper education these women are at a disadvantage and could end up being misunderstood in many areas of life.”

-Aras Tobin, 2021 Rock Star Awardee

The Rock Star Fund provides young women of color between the ages of 12 and 24 living in DC with up to $2,000 to invest in their own learning, leadership, ideas, and community projects, while also advancing the Young Women’s Initiative Blueprint for Action. Aras identified a need for guidance and mentorship specifically for education and subsequently applied for this award. In her application she wrote, “By encouraging and empowering young women to explore different ways to learn, develop, and grow, we are creating support systems for future success within our communities.” and this is exactly what she is accomplishing. 

Most uniquely, the Rock Star Awardees, using participatory grantmaking, are selected by members of the DC Girls’ Coalition, a group of young women, girls and gender expansive youth who set the policy agenda for the city to center women, girls and gender expansive youth of color. They are tasked with selecting Awardees who will help address the needs that ultimately benefit the community. 

We are excited to launch our 4th cohort of Rock Stars like Aras, who see the need for changes in DC and want to develop community projects that address these issues.

Applications are now OPEN for youth of color in Washington, DC between the age of 12 – 24. Apply here until February 28, 2022!

Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative Announces 2021 Docket

Washington Area Women’s Foundation has been the home to the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative (ECEFC) since 2008. This month, the ECEFC is excited to announce the awardees for its 13th year funding together!

The ECEFC is a collaborative investment model with 11 current members, including The Women’s Foundation, that pool dollars and make collective grant decisions toward early education systems change in the Washington, DC metropolitan region. For the past few years, the ECEFC has focused on supporting the leadership and advancement of the largely women of color and immigrant women early education workforce.

“The ECEFC allows us to meet the needs of our association without us having to fit into a set box,” said Diane Volcansek, Executive Director of Northern Virginia Association for the Education of Young Children. Diane added that the ECEFC’s giving process is “supportive and intentional. They really get to know us, and then trust us to use the funding in the way that is best for us.”

The ECEFC is proud to invest $351,000 in the following organizations during 2022:

Collectively, and with other partners, these organizations are working to ensure the voices of early educators are at decision-making tables related to the early education industry and workforce.

Testimony to DC Committee of the Whole Budget Hearing

Thank you, Chairman. My name is Martine [Sadarangani Gordon].  I’m a Ward 3 resident, Vice President of Programs at Washington Area Women’s Foundation and a member of the Under 3 DC advocacy coalition.

I’m also a mom of two young kids, and I am here today to reiterate the need for increased, long-term public investment in early education. For far too long, our society has relied on parents paying significant sums for childcare and early educators earning poverty wages to finance the system. My own childcare costs in 2021 will exceed a third of my income, but on the other side of things, more than 34% of early educators in DC are living in poverty. It is a cruel joke that early educators in DC do not earn enough to afford childcare for their own children.

Councilmembers, economic instability wasn’t caused by the pandemic. Many DC families have struggled for decades, in part, because of how expensive it is to pay for basic needs – housing, healthcare, and childcare among them. Childcare costs alone can eat into 80% of a local family’s income. There is a reason other wealthy countries pay for social supports, like early education, for their residents. They know most hardworking people simply can’t afford to do it on their own. We, here in DC, cannot expect any measure of economic stability if we do not better subsidize these costs and ensure livable compensation for our most valuable workforce. 

I know we just got a whole lot of federal money, but that is not sustainable funding. That’s why the time is now to increase taxes on the highest income earners so we can help families to not have to live in poverty. A tax increase on households with taxable income of more than $250,000 would represent just 3% of taxpayers in DC, and we know that those households represent the wealthiest taxpayers who have fared well during this pandemic. In exchange, a tax increase like this would allow for a $60 million enhancement to our childcare subsidy program. So, please raise revenue. 

On a related topic, as someone who had both my children before DC’s paid leave program started, I am strongly against any proposal to use any surplus dollars from the Paid Family and Medical Leave program to cut taxes to corporations. That money belongs with the hardworking families and caregivers who need it.  I urge you to reject that proposal and use those funds to expand paid family & medical leave instead.

You have heard, and will continue to hear, today from early educators and parents who are pleading for change to our systems. DC residents are supportive of increased investments in early education. We have seen that through both recent surveys and through the widespread public support of DC’s universal prek program. 

I have worked on early education policy in DC for over a decade, and I know that the changes needed are not all legislative. But I assure you, they are not insurmountable. What you, as Councilmembers, can ensure is that the funding to make those changes is available. You have the power to make things better. A tax increase on just 3% of our wealthiest folks can go a long way.

DC Ranks Top for Women’s Employment and Earnings, but Black and Latina Women Are Left Behind

By Halie Mariano and Elyse Shaw

This Blog was originally published on IWPR

Since the start of COVID-19, women have been hit hard by the pandemic-fueled “she-cession,” which has exacerbated existing inequities and increased economic insecurity among women. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s new policy brief uses 2019 data to provide a baseline for women’s employment and earnings, ranking all 50 states and the District of Columbia on four indicators: women’s earnings, the gender wage gap, women’s participation in the labor force, and women’s representation in managerial and professional occupations. In this Employment and Earnings Index, the District of Columbia received the only “A” grade, ranking first in three of the four component indicators.

To paint a more comprehensive picture of women’s employment and earnings in the District of Columbia, however, we must consider the city’s racial and ethnic diversity: 42.3 percent of the city’s population is White, 43.9 percent is Black, and 12.2 percent identify as Hispanic or Latina/o. Black and Latina women who reside in DC do not have the same experiences and opportunities as White women. While the city ranks at or near the top on each of the four parts of the Employment and Earnings Index, it still has work to do to improve the economic status and security of allwomen.

In 2019, Black and Latina women in the United States earned less on average (just over $41,000 and $36,100 per year, respectively), compared to White women (on average earning over $51,000 annually). They also faced a larger wage gap; it would take Black women 109 years and Latina women 199 years to reach equal pay with White men.

These patterns hold true in DC. While women in DC had the highest median annual earnings among all women throughout the United States ($72,000 in 2019), Black and Latina women in DC have been earning much less. Between 2014 and 2018, Black women in DC earned $52,312 and Latina women earned $55,000 on average annually. This translates into a much larger wage gap in DC compared to the rest of the country. In those same years, Black women earned 52.3 percent and Latina women earned 55 percent of White men’s annual earnings, respectively, compared to White women who in 2019 earned 78.7 percent of White men’s earnings.

In IWPR’s Poverty and Opportunity Index, DC ranks 51st for women’s poverty, with 26.7 percent of women living below the poverty line. Therefore, while many women in DC are doing very well when it comes to employment and earnings, a significant wage gap remains. DC’s median earnings for women are skewed by the extremely high earnings of women in well-paid occupations—positions that are more likely to be filled by White women.

These statistics provide a snapshot of what women’s lives looked like before 2020, and so we must also consider the economic instability many Black and Latina women have experienced since the pandemic began. Across the United States, Black and Latina women were most likely to be working in the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, including in many customer-facing occupations. Moreover, they tended to earn less than White women in these jobs. In 2020, the median weekly earnings for full-time workers in service occupations in the U.S. was $535 for Latinas and $551 for Black women, compared to $594 for White women and $797 for White men.  The challenges facing Black and Latina women nationally are likely elevated in DC, a city with substantial racial and ethnic diversity—andinequality.

During the pandemic, many women were put in the difficult position of having to balance increased family caregiving demands—as schools and child care centers closed—with their day jobs. Yet, Black and Latina women were less likely to have the option to work from home when the pandemic began. Of all workers with the option to work remotely, only 21 percent were Black and 17 percent were Latina/o, leaving many women without child care and with the impossible decision of caring for their children versus providing basic necessities for themselves and their families. Even those who could secure a spot in an open child care center may not have been able to afford it. In DC, the average annual cost of full-time infant center-based child care is over $24,000, a burden that is out of reach for many families.

The District of Columbia has several important worker-friendly policies, such as paid family and medical leave and a minimum wage that will increase to $15.20 per hour on July 1. However, DC must ensure all women have access to employment and other economic opportunities—not just White women. Despite DC’s consistently high rankings on IWPR’s Status of Women in the States Employment and Earnings Index, the city must continue to work toward providing a more equitable economic landscape for Black and Latina women.

Pay Home Visitors Their Worth

Unless you’ve participated in a home visiting program yourself, you probably don’t know what home visiting is or what a home visitor does. In truth, there are different types of home visiting models, and the job of a home visitor can be slightly different depending on the model and individual family needs. But, regardless of the program, home visitors help families navigate complex resource and support systems so that families are healthy, safe, educated and economically secure.

That’s a huge job, and you’d think that anyone doing that job would be paid handsomely. Not so. Like many largely women workforces, they are undervalued and underpaid. Despite the fact that 81% of DC home visitors hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, only 34% report being satisfied by their salary. Further, more than half of DC home visitors report that their overall compensation is inadequate, and a third of DC home visitors do not anticipate being able to stay in the field long-term due to the lack of fair compensation. In a recent report by the DC Home Visiting Council, a home visitor is quoted as saying, “Nobody wants to be complacent. In this field, you can get very complacent, because the pay is low, but there’s no room for growth. You can be the best at it, and you’ll still be running in place.”

Aren’t we tired of this story? The hard working Black and brown women putting their heart and soul into their work to help their neighbors, all the while not earning enough to sustain their own families?  And it is Black and brown women who are home visitors locally. In fact, 84% of DC home visitors identify as women, 56% are Latinx and 27% are Black. Only 12% of DC home visitors are White. In DC, we know that home visitors aren’t just helping families navigate systems effectively, they are supporting mostly Black and brown families navigate historically racist and sexist systems, all the while being survivors of those systems themselves.

So, once again, we have a largely women of color workforce performing critical work to reduce infant mortality, improve child outcomes, reduce child abuse and neglect, and so much more; yet as a community we ask them to do very hard work for very little pay. And when those same women leave the field for opportunities with higher compensation and greater opportunity, we are left with the difficult task of recruiting for a position that we know doesn’t compensate commiserate with the level of skill required.

This issue is, of course, more complicated than just raising salaries. The funding for home visiting programs is a mix of federal and local government dollars and private philanthropic funds. Many programs operate in an environment of constant scarcity and uncertainty. That alone makes it difficult to hire, retain, and compensate staff. But, we can do better. As a community, we can commit to valuing home visiting as a critical element of a comprehensive system of care. We can demand a stronger public investment in home visiting programs that allows for higher rates of compensation for the workforce.

DC is a wealthy District with a high cost of living. Families are struggling, and unfortunately those who want to serve families are struggling too. Let’s find a way to make this right. Let’s pay home visitors what they are worth.

Learn more about DC home visitors and home visiting programs by visiting the DC Home Visiting Council website.

#AskHer Series: Shawnda Chapman, Director of the Girls Fund Initiative, Ms. Foundation

Our #AskHer series is an interview with our partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. This interview is with Shawnda Chapman, Director of the Girls Fund Initiative for Ms. Foundation. The interview was conducted at the end of 2020 by our Program Officer, Claudia Williams. 

Claudia: Can you share a little bit about yourself, how did you come to the Ms. Foundation for Women, and what projects you have going on?

Shawnda: I believe people need all the experiences, I used to walk around thinking some of my experiences were a liability. And now, I really see them as an asset. My work is rooted in my own experiences as a survivor of sexual violence, and a survivor of the juvenile justice system. Many girls experience incarceration and gender-based violence that impact their lives. 

I am excited to lend my voice as the Director of the Girls of Color Fund Initiative at the Ms. Foundation for Women, because up until recently I walked around closeted of my lived experiences. Being a survivor of sexual violence and someone who has been impacted by the justice system is usually something others make you feel you should hide—I felt people would judge me in professional spaces. But I came to a point where I thought to myself, “I had these experiences, and my knowledge of them, and the solutions I can propose, could really help somebody.” There are few of us with these experiences in decision making tables, so now I am honored to do this work, and I have a responsibility to myself, to communities, and to girls of color specifically, to incorporate my lived experiences in mainstream conversations and to normalize talking about them.

I have a background in research, and activism, and I bring some of that to the work at the foundation as well. I am currently focused on supporting the leadership and organizing of girls of color, the work has evolved quite a bit. We started calling this project the Girls Fund Initiative, and we are now explicit about our focus on girls of color, because we can’t bring about change, if we are not intentional about naming what we are working on. We are in the middle of a deep listening and learning process, working closely with girls’ advisory groups who are helping us to understand what girls of color are facing. We are moving away from top down approaches and know that girls of color are playing an important role in leading our strategy. We can’t make any real lasting and sustainable change that isn’t led by them.

My orientation while conducting research, and now my orientation in philanthropy, is to always give more than we take. I think we should always be reducing barriers rather than creating more. So, we are being very thoughtful about that, and we are also making sure that we are honoring girls and organizations participating in our process.

It is such an honor to do this work and I feel a huge sense of responsibility to it. I know what it means to come from where I have come from. So I am making sure that we come to this work with dignity and with intentionality, and recognizing not just our ability to make an impact through the economic commitments that we make, but also through what we learn and that we have the ability to push the field to do better.

Claudia: Can you share more about your efforts to push the philanthropic sector to do better?

Shawnda: Ms. Foundation just released a report, Pocket Change, highlighting the fact that we are not investing enough in women and girls. Even less in women and girls of color. As a researcher, one of the first things that I always do is dive into the data to figure out what we know, what’s happening, and one of the things that surprised me the most was the fact that we don’t actually have a sense of how much money goes out to girls of color. Through this research we have a better sense of how few resources go to women, and there is still a long way to go. For instance, we do not have a great sense of how much disabled girls are getting or if there any resources going to girls affected by climate change. Girls of color quite often are the last to be considered for funding and the first to be let go. Feminist foundations like The Women’s Foundation and Ms. Foundation for women are more important than ever, because there are so few foundations that are intentional about funding, women, girls, and gender-expansive people of color. Our work is so critical, and all of the learning that we are doing and putting out there helps us advocate to push the field to do better.

Claudia: There is a lot of talk about centering the voices of young women and gender-expansive youth of color, but how do you do that? Can you share your experience as the Director of the Girls of Color Fund Initiative at Ms. Foundation for Women? 

Shawnda: I am super new to philanthropy; it’s been less than a year. I think it’s both a blessing and a curse sometimes. I feel a little clunky sometimes, but I think that being new has allowed me to be bolder in the decisions that I’m taking and the way that I want to develop a strategy to center the voices of young women and gender-expansive youth of color.

We are supporting organizations with the goal to be able to learn from them in a very deeply, engaged, and meaningful way. It is really about bringing them to the decision-making table in their own terms. We are asking girls of color to show up and create the change that they want to see in the world, but in order for us to ask that, we have the responsibility to resource them properly so they can do that fully. That means many things, and depends on the needs of the girls and organizations that we are working with, for some it is political education or capacity building or communications training, but it is definitely more than just checking a box that makes us feel good about saying that we “included” them. Their ideas, creativity and passion is really what needs to be driving our work, and we are being very thoughtful about the ways we engage with them, because they have so many competing priorities, between school, family and friends.

Claudia: What are some of the principles that guide your work at the Girls of Color Fund?  

Shawnda: One of the things that we deeply care about is the fact that girls have the right to joy and we want to support that. We want to support programming that creates opportunities for girls of color to access joy, spaces where girls can really enjoy and be themselves, and where they don’t have to be thinking about being resilient—there’s this conversation about how Black women are very resilient, but we don’t necessarily want to be resilient all the time! Just because many girls of color have figured out how to not to perish in the system, doesn’t mean that they don’t need fun and resources, and time for healing and growth.  

Learn more about Ms. Foundation here!

Who Did Home Care Fall On? Girls of Color Held Their Communities Together During the COVID-19 Crisis

One year ago, I posted the question, “Who does home care fall on?” I warned that COVID-19’s abrupt impact on home dynamics was falling disproportionately on girls, and particularly, girls of color in vulnerable communities. 

Now, after one year in the shadow of a virus, the data is in: the pandemic has had a devastating toll on women. Some experts have referred to this as the “Care Economy,” “Pink pandemic” and  “She-cession” because women have borne the brunt of the crisis by nearly every measure. The gender inequities that existed prior to the pandemic have worsened. 

Crittenton Services of Greater Washington Girls

Our teens were not immune to the impacts of the virus either. 

We recently conducted a needs and impact assessment with the more than 400 teens that we serve in the District and Montgomery County. Not only are they still struggling in the unequal balance of schoolwork and home, but it’s also causing them to question their futures. 

Caregiving responsibilities are one of the biggest stressors on girls. Nearly 40% of the girls we surveyed reported difficulties managing their time with schoolwork. They have to navigate being students, children, siblings and caretakers in crowded home environments. The stress and competing needs led to 42% reporting that they are not sleeping at night because of worry and anxiety, and 55% being concerned about their futures.

Important progress is being made towards recovery, however, returning to normal would be a grave mistake. Now is the time to chart a new and equitable path for girls. To do so, we must look holistically and be brutally honest about their new normal and what they need to succeed.

For example, we recently partnered with NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, to testify and successfully pass HB 00401 Educational Equity for Pregnant, Expectant, and Parenting Students, in the Maryland House. Among other provisions, the bill requires schools designate private lactation spaces that are not bathrooms or closests, determine an amended attendance policy for parents, and assist and advise in identifying safe, affordable, and reliable child care services–all of which contribute to educational success of teens. 

Future plans, programs, and policies for girls must center new caregiving responsibilities, include scaled up investment in care infrastructure, and address the trauma that they’ve experienced so that young girls can fully participate in recovery. Furthermore, we must invest in and listen to groups, organizations, and leaders that specialize in culturally competent care, especially those that work directly with Black, Indigenous, and communities of color. 

Like many of us, girls have risen to the occasion, despite the hardships, because their friends, families, and communities required them to. It’s on us to make sure that they don’t slip through the cracks. 

Siobhan Davenport is President and CEO of Crittenton Services of Greater Washington and has more than 16 years of experience working with youth that face structural barriers. With her leadership, CSGW launched its Declare Equity Initiative, focused on the inequities that girls of color face in schools through D.C. Metropolitan Area.

Read Our New Community Investment Report

In 2020, your support allowed us to move money into the community more quickly, reduce barriers and burdens in our investment processes, and provide greater flexibility and trust to our partners. Because of you – we’re excited to share our collective work over the past year in our 2020 Community Investment Report!

With your help, we awarded $1,025,550 in grants to more than 44 local community-based organizations and individuals. These investments have the potential to impact:

  • 3,000 early childhood educators and 40,000 families with young children throughout the region
  • 3,500 survivors of sexual or domestic violence throughout the region
  • 5,000 young women and gender expansive youth of color in DC.

This impact would not have been possible without you. We asked you to step up at a time when everyone was feeling overwhelmed and stretched thin. We asked you to trust us to leverage your donation with the donations of your friends, neighbors, and colleagues to create a more powerful collective investment in women and girls of color. And you answered the call.

With your support, we can deepen investments in organizations and leaders who are making an outsized difference for the women and girls they serve, creating a better region for future generations.

Read the 2020 Community Investment Report today:

Kristi Matthews Testimony On Behalf of the DC Girls’ Coalition

Chairman Phil Mendelson Committee of the Whole

Agency Performance Oversight: All Education Agencies March 9, 2021

Good Afternoon, my name is Kristi Matthews and I am the Coordinator for DC Girls’ Coalition. The DC Girls’ Coalition works to elevate and amplify the voices of young women, girls, femmes, gender non-conforming and transgender girls/women of color in the District of Columbia. DCGC, comprised of youth-serving and advocacy organizations, that adopts and fights for the implementation of policy recommendations that centers youth leadership and addresses their needs. We are currently managed by our Youth Advisory Board made up of young girls of color and gender nonconforming people of color ages 11- 22 years old.

Today, my testimony will focus on the following issues: mandatory reporting, increasing consent at 16 within education, youth centered approaches to responding to the pandemic, and police free schools. The first issue I will testifying about is mandatory reporting. We know that there is an issue with under-reporting issues of neglect and abuse that are serious for youth and children of color. I personally have been told of many incidents in which youth have shared issues with abuse and neglect and were not taken seriously or believed. We also know they are over-reporting issues that are not at a level of abuse or neglect for youth of color. Within our coalition we have many stories of youth having CPS called to their homes because they came to school late or missed breakfast without anyone talking with them first and seeing if there were reasons for these incidents. We are requesting that DCPS first address the issue of reporting by first making it clear to youth what leads to a cps call and who mandated reporters within their schools using placards within schools. We are also asking that children and youth receive regular classes or training on issues that will lead to mandated reporting.

Another major issue we are working on is consent at 16. We know that there are many youth who are navigating government systems without adult or family support. This becomes a difficult task when you are trying to transfer to a different school, apply for college, or even simply confirm your graduation credits when you are under 18. We are asking that youth under 18 have access to the education records so they can navigate their own education success. We are also asking the DCPS ensure that individual schools enforce their current policies that have been created support Youth who are transgender or gender nonconforming. The policy we are advocating be enforced is the one that states that youth has the right to be called by the gender they have self-identified as. This includes keeping two records of students’ education records (one with the gender assigned at birth and one with the gender they self-identify as). We also support more training of staff to ensure youth who are transgender or gender nonconforming are able to have a safe and healthy school experience.

I will now talk about the pandemic and the need for youth center responses to issues. We co-hosted with several organizations two youth centered town halls about the impact of the pandemic on youth. One of the most common themes was the negative impact on youth and their education access. We are concerned about issues within distance learning, in-person learning, sanitation of schools, recreational/gathering activities, and social and emotional support. With distance learning one of our biggest concerns is connectivity issues in Ward 7 and 8. We have heard from many youth who have lost connection to their classrooms, dealt with frozen screens, or inability to connect at all. We have seen youth fall behind due these concerns. Our next biggest issue is around social and emotional support. We know we are all struggling with social distancing. Children and youth are trying to manage learning and loosing the socialization that occurs within schools. Many youth have talked about an increase in anxiety, depression, and fear with social learning. We are seeing youth being frustrated with the process of learning and being punished for that frustration. DCPS needs to increase social emotional support for youth. There needs to be more resources put into community based healers, counselors, and emotional support entities. I have included the full list of our demands at the end of testimony.

Lastly, we support Black Swan Academy’s Police Free School demands. We are asking that instead of funding for the policing of youth we could make investments in social and emotional support. MPD currently receives over $13 million to police and criminalize our youth in schools. Less than half of this budget could ensure 80 schools received additional clinicians. We support the funding or criminalizing youth to be invested in the mental health of young people instead. We believe we should be increasing community based mental health support, increasing counselors within schools, providing training to teachers to increase their skills at social and emotional learning, and providing more psychologists to support schools.

Thank you for allowing me to testify. I welcome any questions you may have.

Full list of COVID-19 demands:

Focus on online learning and access to technology, including:
  • Improve internet services in Ward 7 and 8
  • Increase online tutoring resources
  • Improve communications with students and families during distance learning
  • Provide distance-learning tutorials for students
  • Ensure distance-learning includes activities and lessons off of technology that are interactive
  • Increase online opportunities for co-studying
  • Increase supports for youth with special learning needs or disabilities
  • Incorporate distance learning adjustment times within the school year
  • Ensure all youth have access to computers, printers, and scanners at home.
  • Provide support for parents who must work and cannot stay home with children.
  • Provide high-quality classroom instruction, including:
    • Incorporate hands on learning opportunities and ensure children can interact with one another safely,
    • Ensure students in learning cohorts are on the same learning level
    • Incorporate outside learning opportunities
    • Ensures students who need aides are able to get support and remain safe
    • Limit in-school time to two or three days
    • Create a code of conduct for following safety protocols that all staff must sign and be held accountable to.
  • Require sanitation protocols, including:
    • Ensure that students and staff are able to be tested for COVID-19 regularly and ensure strong contract tracing
    • Provide free masks, gloves and sanitizer to all students, staff, low-income residents and those at higher risk of contracting COVID-19
    • Ensure all schools have an assigned nurse and access to larger healthcare teams.
    • Develop youth-specific hotline to call if they have symptoms of COVID-19
    • Create cleaning stations outside of each room in schools including bathroom
    • Test every school for ventilation safety and take the necessary steps to ensure it works properly before opening schools
    • Ensure that anyone who enters the school building goes through a sanitation process
    • Increase the number of deep cleanings for each school
  • Rethink, but prioritize gathering times, including
    • Develop spaces to create decorative face masks during school
    • Develop a protocol for walking hallways
    • Create virtual interactions between classes and during lunch,
    • Host activities outside
    • Complete virtual assemblies
    • Develop creative ways for students to practice after school activities.
  • Prioritize social emotional support and mental health, including: Incorporate games and virtual hangouts in lesson plans and school activities Create spaces in school for youth to hangout in a safe way to ensure youth are still getting socialization and emotional support from peers
    • Develop a plan to address how to deal with trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic
    • Ensure every school has fully equipped mental health support staff in schools and virtually that meets national standards, including counselors, social workers, behavior techs, therperist and other clinicians
    • Increase mentors within the school
    • Reach out to community-based partners to help with emotional needs of students
    • Develop mental health check-ins and self-care check-ins that can be incorporated into the class daily
    • Develop creative ways to provide safe hugs during crises
    • Remove police presence in schools and do not rely on security personnel or punitive disciplinary measures to enforce safety protocols or
    • Develop student-based safety protocols that do not rely on police or security officers.

Testimony to the Committee of the Whole, Education Oversight Hearing

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.[1]

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[2].

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[3].

Thank you so much for allowing me this time today. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

[1] https://cscce.berkeley.edu/workforce-index-2020/states/district-columbia/

[2] 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.

[3] 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.