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DC Advocates Fend Off Early Childhood Cuts with the Power of Coalition-Building

The Under 3 DC coalition was formed in late 2019 with the goal of expanding funding for early childhood education, health and mental health supports in Washington DC. Little did they know that their first year of advocacy would happen amidst a pandemic and an estimated $1.5 billion hit to the District’s budget. Given these challenges, the coalition quickly shifted its budget session  strategies to defend important investments. Through these efforts, they successfully increased support for child care and maintained funding for other early childhood programs, despite proposed cuts.

The mission of the Under 3 DC coalition is to expand public investment in early childhood education, mental health and family strengthening program. The coalition is made up of over 50 organizations, parents and educators, including our allies at DC Action and Educare DC. Funding for the coalition is provided, in part, by the Alliance for Early Success. 

The coalition was formed to advocate for full funding of the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act, which was passed in 2018. The legislation expanded access to critical educational, social, and health services and established better coordination to ensure that families had the necessary information to access these services. However, the funding for the legislation fell far short of the nearly $200 million that the fiscal report indicated would be necessary to fully fund the programs. 

Although the coalition originally intended to advocate for expanded funding, they shifted their focus in 2020 to defending the investments that had already been made. Through their efforts, they were able to protect several areas of crucial funding: 

    • protected nearly $4.6 M allocated for early childhood home visiting programs
    • restored $5 million in cuts to child care subsidy funding and CFSA home visiting ($310,000)
    • prevented cuts to other birth-to-three programs, such as Healthy Steps

To do this, they started by surveying child care providers to determine their needs. The survey allowed the coalition to determine their specific legislative asks, and the data and testimony collected also laid the groundwork for making their case and gathering support. In addition to the initial survey, the coalition focused on talking with parents, providers, and community members. Because the coalition includes a broad range of organizations, they were able to utilize organizations with specific expertise in organizing or establishing connections to communities to strategically advance these efforts. 

“I can’t express enough how important our work to build relationships with early educators, community members, and parents has been to our work to defend budget cuts and also in looking to expand funding going forward.” 

Ronald Jarret, Coalition Director 
Under 3 DC

The advocacy efforts included a diverse range of actions. Early educators were so frustrated that the coalition organized a safely-distant, in-person rally outside of the DC Council. Although the rally was small in order to remain distanced, they amplified the message through videos and social media posts about the event. They also organized strong turnout at virtual DC Council hearings. This involved supporting parents and early educator in preparing their testimony as well as accessing and using the technology required. As a result, 15% of the testimonies heard at the summer council meeting were related to the goals of Under 3 DC. On top of these efforts, the coalition also organized a digital ad campaign, which they found especially useful in reaching lawmakers. 

While the collective action of the coalition was successful in defending funding and securing additional funds to stabilize the child care industry, they are already planning efforts to expand this funding in the coming year. 

“We want to make it very clear going forward that child care is a crucial industry sector that needs to be invested in, supported, and protected because if we don’t have an early care and education system, it is going to make the promise of building back stronger incredibly challenging,” Jarrett said. 

In 2021, the coalition plans to advocate for a $60 million investment in child care , which they argue will put the city more on track for funding the promises of the Birth-to-Three law and help child care programs cover the extra cost of operating according to health requirements. They will also fight to maintain current funding for early childhood, particularly highlighting the importance of the Healthy Futures program which focuses on behavioral health in child care programs, as the need for these services has been enhanced by the pandemic. 

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