New Initiative Aims to Improve Child Care in D.C.

Two ideas will be quickly tested: quality-centered workplaces and early education microsites
Blog Post
Jan. 9, 2023

Back in November, I had the opportunity to participate in an event marking the launch of the WeVision EarlyEd initiative, a new project developed by the Bainum Family Foundation. The event coincided with the release of a new report that opens with this line: “Washington, D.C. has a chance to do what no other American jurisdiction has done: get child care right.”

The launch event began with opening remarks from David Daniels, Bainum’s CEO and President. Daniels pointed out how much progress D.C. has made over the last several years in improving access to high-quality early education. Universal public pre-K became available for all D.C. three- and four-year-olds back in 2008 and D.C. currently ranks first in the nation in pre-K access for both ages. Years later, the D.C. Council passed the Birth-to-Three for All DC Amendment Act of 2018 which makes several recommendations, including fully funding child care to keep costs down for families, improving compensation for early educators, and strengthening pre- and postnatal care for mothers. Currently, D.C. boasts some of the highest child care subsidy reimbursement rates in the nation and recently established a Pay Equity Fund that will provide supplemental payments of $10,000 and $14,000 to eligible early educators along with premium-free health insurance.

Despite all these accomplishments, Daniels rightly pointed out that much work remains to be done to improve early education throughout D.C. The cost of child care in D.C. is the highest in the nation, with parents paying 85 percent more than the national average. Despite the high cost of care in the area, many early educators in D.C. continue to earn low pay, with an average hourly wage of $15.36. And the quality of care received by the youngest D.C. residents is highly variable: of the approximately 27,000 child care center spots in D.C. only about 11,500 spots are in centers that participate in QRIS and only about 1,900 of those spots are at the top QRIS level.

After brief remarks from Marica Cox Mitchell, Bainum’s Vice President of Early Childhood, about the foundation’s increased focus on early childhood education, the conversation shifted to the details of how Bainum solicited input to inform their new initiative. The foundation emphasized a human-centered design process that valued input from “proximity experts,” 35 educators, administrators, and families from across D.C. who have firsthand experience with the child care system. Over seven months and 13 focus groups, Bainum sought input from these proximity experts about their current child care experiences as well as ideal solutions.

Several of the proximity experts were present at the event and shared their experiences with the research process, including how the human-centered design process led them to feel as though their experiences and expertise were respected and valued. The current child care experience in D.C. was summarized as “Enter with angst - Manage and survive - Exit with angst” - as opposed to an ideal experience of “Enter with supports - Grow and thrive - Evolve.” The input from the proximity experts informed five “core shifts” identified in the report (check out our recent Q&A with Marica and the full report for more details about these shifts):

  1. Rethink when learning begins
  2. Rethink who needs child care
  3. Rethink what quality programs cost and who pays for it
  4. Rethink quality
  5. Rethink governance and decision-making

Perhaps the most exciting part of the event for me was hearing about the immediate next steps Bainum is taking to improve the D.C. child care system. The foundation has earmarked $6 million to test the feasibility of two ideas that were generated by the proximity experts: 1) quality-centered workplaces that provide for schedule and staffing models that reduce educator burnout and increase retention, and 2) early childhood education microsites to help smaller programs become more financially and operationally stable while simultaneously improving quality.

The quality-centered workplaces will test possible solutions to address educator burnout, such as flexible scheduling patterns, weekly planning time for educators and teaching teams, and additional days of professional development. The microsites will seek to leverage the capacity and resources of larger programs by possibly taking advantage of shared real estate spaces like public schools or apartment buildings and creating new franchise models. The ultimate goal is to make it easier for smaller child care programs to open and survive.

This event marked only the beginning of the WeVision EarlyEd initiative. Check out this page for more information about how to keep updated on the latest developments from the initiative as well as different ways to stay involved as an educator, administrator, parent, or policymaker.

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