To Be Or Not To Be A Cut—That Is The Question About Mayor Gray’s Proposed Child Care Budget For FY 2013
To be or not to be a budget cut—that is the question, and it has been a big question about the child care subsidy program within the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE). The program provides child care to about 21,000 DC kids, including infants and toddlers and older children up to age 13. OSSE says a reduction of $5.7 million in that program that appears in the budget for next year is not actually a cut and that in fact there will be the same slots available. The explanation is very confusing and certainly makes the case for why we need better transparency in DC’s budget.
It’s not obvious to a general reader of Mayor Gray’s proposed budget for next year that child care is “flat-funded” as OSSE claims. When you look at the change from the current fiscal year to next year, it seems federal funding for child care subsidies would be reduced by $5.7 million, from $80.1 million approved in fiscal year 2012 to $74.4 million in fiscal year 2013. In the meantime, OSSE recently announced that local funding for infant and toddler child care slots would increase by $1 million in FY 2013. So how can we go from a $5.7 million decline to a $1 million increase?
According to officials with OSSE, a number of things happened to create this confusion. First, the agency budgeted $2.4 million more federal dollars than ended up being available this current fiscal year. That was somewhat offset by a $1.4 million rollover from a fiscal year 2011 grant that was not accounted for in the fiscal year 2012 budget. Then, according to OSSE, another $2.2 million was recorded in the fiscal year 2012 when it should have gone into fiscal year 2013. One thing is clear: It certainly is confusing, and that makes it difficult for parents, providers and elected officials—as well as education budget analysts such as DCFPI—to understand this important program’s budget.
It should not be this hard to know how much money and slots are available for child care in fiscal year 2013. The agency has promised to put out an official statement explaining the true child care funding numbers, and we hope that statement will come soon.
The Shakespearian dilemma of the child care line item shows that the DC budget has a long way to go to be transparent, clear and understandable to residents who want to know what services they receive and how policy makers are setting budget priorities. For working parents of any income level, access to quality child care is critical. But this funding is especially important for low and moderate income working parents, who need this help to put their child in a safe environment while they work and earn money for their families. With such uncertainty around the important issue of child care, it is in the best interest of the District if OSSE provides an explanation about what funding is proposed as soon as possible.