Celebrating a Major Win for D.C.’s Early Childhood Educators

In the District of Columbia and across the country, many early childhood educators ― who are predominantly Black and brown women ― don’t earn sufficient wages and benefits to support their own families while they care for and educate the young children of other families. On February 1, 2022, the DC Council took a critical step toward establishing pay that more accurately reflects the role and contribution of these essential and highly skilled workers.

The Council unanimously approved a measure that will supplement the pay of eligible educators at early childhood centers and homes across the District by $10,000 (for assistant teachers) to $14,000 (for lead teachers) in 2022. This action was made possible by the Council’s approval in 2021 of a small tax increase on the District’s wealthiest residents. Part of the revenue generated by this increase is earmarked for early childhood workforce compensation.

While the D.C. tax increase occurred only months ago, the groundwork for this win was laid years ago, first with the adoption of the District’s groundbreaking universal Pre-K program in 2008 and later with the creation of the Birth-to-Three Policy Alliance in 2016. This group initially included a dozen D.C. nonprofits that support families with young children, and it has evolved to become Under 3 DC, a coalition of nearly 50 member organizations. Together and individually, these organizations worked to envision a comprehensive and equitable early childhood system for the District and advocated for the Birth to Three For All Act of 2018, which, when fully funded, will make that vision a reality. Early childhood workforce compensation is a key priority of the Act.

Through our commitment to early childhood in D.C., the Bainum Family Foundation has provided more than $40 million in funding since late 2015 (including $11.4 million specifically for policy/advocacy work). This funding has supported technical assistance, facility enhancements and major practice and policy initiatives across the District, with an emphasis on Wards 7 and 8, where most residents are Black and median household income is sharply lower than in other D.C. neighborhoods. It includes establishing and supporting the Policy Alliance as well as supporting the Under 3 DC coalition and many of the individual member organizations.

As we reflect on this latest part of the journey, we attribute success to several factors:

  • Making sure the right stakeholders were at the table, including practitioner-led professional organizations in early childhood
  • Ensuring that those who paved the way for today’s win by securing Pre-K For All in D.C. in 2008 were an integral part of the solution
  • Prioritizing workforce compensation at this point rather than seeking to simultaneously fund all provisions of the Birth to Three For All Act
  • Pursuing sustainable funding rather than funding that could be changed year to year or revoked
  • Approaching early childhood issues from an equity perspective to ensure we eliminate gaps as opposed to perpetuating them
  • Consistently turning traditional philanthropic protocols on their head by funding those closest to the issue, regardless of their financial position, and building infrastructure and capacity where needed

Today, we join all our early childhood partners and the early childhood workforce in D.C. in celebrating this momentous win. We commend Under 3 DC for its excellent leadership, and we thank the DC Council for making early childhood educators a priority and for recognizing that they are professionals with valuable and specialized expertise.

Even as we celebrate, we must acknowledge that making direct payments to early childhood educators is a powerful but short-term solution. Our team, alongside our partners, looks forward to enacting Phase 2 of this effort, when these pay levels will be embedded in educator salaries, and we can address other issues ― such as working conditions and professional recognition ― that matter deeply to early childhood educator retention and the quality of care and education young children in our community receive.