Building the Foundation for a Bright Future: DC passes Birth-to-Three for All

In June 2018, the Council of the District of Columbia committed to helping DC’s youngest children thrive by unanimously passing the Birth-to-Three for All DC bill (B-3 DC).

This legislation represents years of learning, planning, and collaboration among advocates, early educators, health providers, and policymakers. B-3 DC strengthens the District’s early childhood system by expanding and coordinating services and supports for young children and their families, with attention to equitable access to opportunity regardless of race, ethnicity or zip code.

This recent victory builds on the success of 2008’s Pre-K for All Act, which created universal access to high-quality pre-k for all three- and four-year olds in DC. In the years that have followed, the District achieved some of the highest pre-K enrollment rates in the country. Seeing the impact of deep investment in early learning on children and their families, stakeholders sought to build a coordinated system of infant and toddler services to support young children in the critical years before they enter school.   

The B-3 DC bill supports young children in the following key ways:

Makes it possible for more child care providers to deliver high-quality care:
For many children, high quality early childhood education is the key to a strong start.  However, District child care subsidies, which compensate providers who serve children in low-income families, are not sufficient to cover the cost of high quality care or to match the market rate. As a result, these providers often struggle to make ends meet and provide the early education that could best help children thrive. B-3 DC raises subsidy reimbursements to child care providers to align with the cost of providing high-quality care, giving more DC children from low-income families the opportunity to succeed. The bill also expands the District’s Quality Improvement Network (QIN), which supports infant-toddler care providers for low-income families improve the quality of their care to meet Early Head Start standards.

Makes high-quality child care more affordable for all families:
Child care is unaffordable to many DC families, and is especially challenging for low- and middle-income families. On average, the annual cost of child care for a single infant in the District is $22,631, more than the average cost of rent and is almost four times more than what the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) considers affordable. B-3 DC phases in an expansion of the District’s child care subsidy to cover all eligible families by 2027; subsidy eligibility starts with the lowest income families, with co-pay increasing with income on a sliding scale. This progressive model is based on a recommendation from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Strengthens the early education workforce:
DC is one of the nation’s most expensive cities to live in, and early educator salaries – on average just $29,000 per year – have not kept up with the rising cost of living.[1] This has resulted in high turnover and strain in the District’s early education workforce. B-3 DC creates a fair, competitive salary scale for early educators and ties child care subsidy rates to this scale, so that DC child care providers can attract and retain high quality early educators. While the law does not specify the details of this salary scale, it requires that it provides “compensation equivalent to the average base salary and fringe benefits of an elementary school teacher employed by District of Columbia Public Schools with the equivalent role, credentials, and experience.” Local early childhood advocates will continue to work with local agencies and policymakers to develop a fair and meaningful scale.

Expands access to health resources for young children and their families:

Although a wide range of supports for young children and their families exist in the District, there is not sufficient investment for those supports to reach all children and families that could benefit. B-3 DC invests in system supports for and an expansion of early childhood home visiting to set families of young children up for success and link them to other services. This legislation also expands Healthy Futures, a program that provides mental health consultation to early childhood educators to build their capacity to support young children’s social and emotional development, and the Lactation Certification Preparatory Program, which trains and supports aspiring lactation specialists.

Improves linkages to and coordination of services for young children and their families:

B-3 DC prioritizes increased connections and coordination to improve family access to the care they need. First, the bill expands DC Help Me Grow, a phone-based care coordination system that helps families navigate the District’s system of child development and family support services. The bill also expands Healthy Steps, which connects families to child development expert located in participating pediatricians’ offices to ensure that families can address more of their children’s needs in one trusted place.

Early childhood stakeholders in the District of Columbia see B-3 DC as a bold step toward a comprehensive early childhood system. The bill intentionally addresses the families with the greatest need first and then scales over time. The District plans for full implementation of the bill by 2027; however, DC’s pre-K implementation sets a strong precedent. The education system achieved universal access years ahead of schedule, and advocates are hopeful that the same will be true for B-3 DC.

-Shana Bartley, Executive Director & Ruqiyyah Abu-Anbar, Director of Early Childhood Policy & Programs

DC Action for Children

(August 28, 2018)