D.C. could take first steps to increase child care worker pay A city task force wants more than $50 million to be given to child care workers this year as the first step in increasing their pay in the long term.
From NPR station

WAMU 88.5

D.C. could take first steps to increase child care worker pay

Child care in D.C. is among the most expensive in the country, but many workers make just slightly more than minimum wage. Kavitha Cardoza/WAMU/DCist hide caption

toggle caption
Kavitha Cardoza/WAMU/DCist

Thousands of child care workers across D.C. could receive additional pay this year worth up to $14,000. This is part of a longstanding plan to gradually increase salaries among educators who care for infants and toddlers — and who currently only make slightly more than minimum wage.

The proposal comes from the D.C. Early Childhood Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force, which was created by the D.C. Council last year and charged with finding ways to disburse tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue coming from a new tax increase on wealthy households. For the 2022 fiscal year, which ends in September, that amounts to $53.9 million; by 2025 it will be $74.8 million.

In its first report to the council this month, the 14-person task force is recommending a one-time "supplemental" payment this year that could range from $10,000 for assistant teachers to $14,000 to lead teachers in child care homes and centers, to be followed by the creation of a system to give permanent raises to child care workers using the available tax revenue. The task force is expected to outline how that system could work in its final report to the council, which is due on April 15.

Article continues below

"The top two things that came out [of the task force discussions] are that we need to get money out the door to teachers who have been working hard during the pandemic, who have been working hard over the course of their careers and are underpaid, and we need to get the funds that have been allocated by the council out as soon as we can," says Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen, a member of the task force and director of the Under 3 D.C. Coalition.

The issue of pay for child care workers has been percolating in D.C. for years, especially since 2018 when the council approved a sweeping bill known as "Birth-To-Three For All D.C." that pledged to bring down child care costs for families while increasing pay for workers. While D.C. has long posted some of the country's highest average child care costs (more than $24,000 a year for a single child enrolled in a center in 2019), average pay for workers in 2020 was just over $37,000 a year — roughly $18 an hour. That's left many families struggling to cover the cost of child care (or opting out of working altogether), while many of the providers — who are largely Black and brown — are left to rely on government benefits to get by.

"Child care is actually one of the worst-paid jobs that you can have in America," says Caitlin McLean, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California at Berkeley. "What ends up happening is that the teachers basically subsidize the system with low wages and almost no benefits."

But addressing both costs to families and pay for providers has proven difficult; both require large amounts of money and carefully crafted solutions to avoid unintended consequences. Additionally, unlike public education that starts in pre-K, child care in D.C. is largely provided by private businesses; there are more than 470 licensed facilities in the city with over 3,100 staff serving more than 11,000 infants and toddlers.

An initial proposal in the Birth-To-Three bill would increase worker pay by funneling new funds through the existing program that gives subsidies to low-income families for care. But a report late last year from the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent for Education warned that that could actually result in higher child care costs for many families — and possibly fewer care options for low-income families. (A similar problem could have come from proposed increased spending included in President Joe Biden's Build Back Better bill.)

The D.C. task force is instead proposing its two-track system to get funds directly to child care workers, first as the "supplemental" payments that could go out within the year, and later as a regular system of funneling money to providers to allow them to increase the pay of their workers, with variations based on specific job titles, experience, and credentials.

There could still be hiccups, though, especially when it comes to OSSE moving money out on a fast schedule — and in an industry that's made up of hundreds of private child care providers. Additionally, in its report the task force recognizes that the city will have to do extensive outreach to let providers and workers know this money will be available, help providers manage administrative burdens of taking the money, and work with individual workers to help them understand whether or not the additional pay could impact their eligibility for government benefits.

Still, Anbar-Shaheen says she is excited that years after the council passed the Birth-To-Three bill, the wheels are being put in motion to start addressing at least one element — pay for child care workers.

"I think that we are one of the few states that are on the cusp of doing this work," she says. "In D.C. we're thinking about doing it in a really expansive way because we know that early care and education as a sector, we think about it as a business model now we need to start thinking about it as a public good. And this is the first step to really expanding our investment in early care and education. I think it will be a model."

This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.

Questions or comments about the story?

WAMU 88.5 values your feedback.

From NPR station

WAMU 88.5