The District of Columbia will take another significant step in advancing equitable compensation for child care workers next year when educators and all eligible employees of licensed early learning facilities will be able to access to free, quality, publicly-financed health insurance coverage. This is the first public child care workforce program in the District that supports child care staff in every role, allowing the critical workers with roles outside of the classroom to benefit.
The advance comes after years of advocacy by Under3 DC, a diverse coalition whose leadership includes Alliance early childhood ally DC Action.
“Transformative systems change can only happen when we put the needs and experiences of people at the center of everything we do. In this case, Under 3 DC pressed policymakers to center the early educators and early learning staff who carry our child care system, knowing that benefits, opportunities for professional growth, and healthy work environments all must accompany salary increases to meaningfully change the experience of child care professionals and strengthen our system.”
Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen, Director of Early Childhood, DC Action
This new program is coming in addition to the long-awaited launch of a permanent, publicly-funded compensation program designed to ensure that early educators are paid salaries comparable to educators of older children. Both programs are funded by DC’s Pay Equity Fund, a permanent, dedicated funding source for compensation initiatives in early childhood education.
Under HealthCare4ChildCare, administered by the DC Health Benefits Exchange Authority:
- All DC-residing employees of early learning centers and homes, and employees’ dependents, will be able to enroll in a Silver level health plan for free, regardless of citizenship status.
- All non-DC residents who work in a DC early learning facility (centers and homes) will be able to enroll in a Silver level health plan for free or at reduced premiums, although their family members will not be able to receive benefits for free. Non-residents are also eligible regardless of citizenship status.
The idea that health insurance is a critical component of compensation is codified in the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act of 2018, which promises early educators “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.”
Nationally, early educators have high rates of uninsurance far surpassing those of teachers of older children, at nearly 16% (vs. 4.2 percent of P-12 teachers), with only about a third of educators employed at child care centers accessing employer-sponsored insurance. Between 14 and 38 percent of early educators depend on public insurance. HealthCare4ChildCare will be an essential correction of these long-standing inequities.
As policymakers across the country and in the District have strived to increase compensation for early childhood educators, the severity of historic under-compensation has meant that salary increases often make them ineligible for public assistance programs that many educators and their families rely on. As a result, educators offered pay increases (such as the pay supplements many states recently made available using ARPA funds) often face the choice of accepting higher pay and losing benefits. Or, if they take pay increases, they pay privately for benefits that may cost more than their raise. Others turn down opportunities for higher pay altogether.
HealthCare4ChildCare is an important step to eliminating this difficult choice. By making no or low-cost health insurance available to child care workers and their families, the District can further ensure that resources invested in staff salaries through the Pay Equity Fund can reach educators’ pockets.
The DC Health Benefits Exchange (HBX) will begin outreach to early learning programs in October of this year and directly to teachers in November. They will work one-on-one to enroll early learning staff in health care and employers in the marketplace, including taking on the burden of creating accounts and completing all enrollment materials.
The Pay Equity Fund and HealthCare4ChildCare are the direct result of persistent advocacy by educators, families, early learning programs, and community advocates, and our state policymakers’ principled support.
Under3 DC, September 21, 2022