DC Council can Celebrate Mother’s Day by Honoring the Needs of District Moms 

Credit: Under 3 DC

When moms are on the front line of a movement, lawmakers listen. 

The Under 3 DC Coalition has tapped into the power of moms to urge local lawmakers to bolster the early childhood industry through key investments in child care and the educators who keep the sector running. From the passage of universal pre-kindergarten in 2008 to the Birth-to-Three For All DC Act in 2018 to the creation of the Pay Equity Fund (PEF) in 2021, mothers have led the fight, as parents and educators, for high-quality, affordable early childhood services in DC. 

Now, they are back in the fight against Mayor Bowser’s proposed budget, which slashes funding for the District’s early care and education system, most notably through the elimination of PEF and cuts to the child care subsidy program. District moms and other caregivers have testified at public hearings and rallies to stand in solidarity with the workers who care for their children, demanding fair compensation and adequate resources for affordable child care.  

On Mother’s Day, the DC Council should honor them and the commitments it made to families by restoring funding for the PEF and the child care subsidy program to ensure accessible, affordable, and high-quality child care for all District parents. 

Mothers Turn their Lived Experience into Community Change  

The PEF benefits more than 4,000 underpaid early educators, most of whom are Black and brown women, by ensuring pay parity with DC Public Schools teachers. I recently spoke with some of these mothers about what motivates them to advocate for the PEF and other early childhood supports and what they would like to see in this year’s DC budget. 

Martha’s world shifted when she had her first biological child. Faced with a tangled web of information and insufficient options, she finally found a child care center that had a slot for her daughter. But she soon found the center to be under-resourced and overstressed, and quickly had to find a new facility with the resources to care for her child, who required more specialized services. When Martha’s daughter entered the new center, she had an Individual Education Plan (IEP)—a plan for educational instruction and support for children eligible for special education. After one year of quality, reliable child care, her daughter no longer needs an IEP.  

Both facilities participated in the PEF, which Martha understands as essential to operating center-based and home-based child care. She believes that parents should be tapping into their skills as advocates—like the ability to simplify and communicate complicated topics—to call for greater investments in early childhood in the District so that all families and educators feel supported in the same way she does. 

For Emma Mehrabi, the PEF represents a way for the District to live our values. Emma got connected to advocacy through her son’s child care center. She doesn’t want her son’s educators to be distracted and anxious about their financial health because if they’re worried about “the basics,” then they won’t be the best educators they can be and, ultimately, children’s learning will suffer. The PEF has been an important tool to alleviate this stress among educators and allows them to better focus on creating supportive learning environments. She also worries that if the District stops prioritizing the mostly Black and brown women who teach our children, they will leave the field, resulting in classrooms and centers shutting down and leaving fewer options for parents. 

Hilary Daniel knows this reality well. She started her journey as an early childhood educator at the age of 12, supporting the child care center at her church. When she eventually entered the field as a teacher, she found herself frustrated with the fact that her college degree earned her only $0.25 more per hour than those without one and stressed with figuring out how to make ends meet. She understands the importance of the economic security offered through the PEF and what it must feel like to have that threatened. Hilary is now an early learning specialist and the mother of a first-grader and a child in Head Start. She joined the initial fight to fund the PEF, and she’s back fighting for it to be restored. She knows fair compensation and benefits boost morale among educators and help child care centers and homes retain highly skilled staff. 

As a professor, Kathryn Kleppinger understands firsthand the skill and expertise required to teach, whether it’s our youngest children or in higher education. Kathryn sought reliable, safe, expert child care for her two children so that she and her partner could continue working and living in DC, an experience shared by many parents. She believes that early educators deserve to be paid enough to live in the District, too, and that the PEF is crucial to solving some of the problems facing the District, like school truancy, unemployment, and crime. 

Danielle Geong, Ward 4 resident and mother of a 2-year-old in child care, also recognizes the problems facing the District and believes that if everyone was paying their fair share in taxes, including businesses and the wealthiest residents, DC would have the resources it needs to address them. She would like to see lawmakers raise revenue before cutting critical programs, like the PEF, even if it means seeing an increase in the taxes her own household pays. 

Lawmakers Should Respond to Mothers’ Needs 

To honor these mothers and advocates, the DC Council should: 

  • Restore all funding for the Pay Equity Fund, including for HealthCare4ChildCare, and consider progressive revenue raisers to keep up with the growing costs of the program in the long term as educators attain higher credentials and gain more experience. 
  • Maintain funding for DC Lead scholarships, which help cover the cost of tuition and books for early educators seeking higher credentials, to continue supporting the highest quality education for DC’s youngest children. 
  • Restore funding for key early childhood programs, like child care subsidy and community-based preschool, to ensure that every parent has access to high-quality and affordable child care.  
  • Expand economic supports for families through programs like Strong Families, Strong Futures DC, a guaranteed income pilot that boosts the economic security of Black and brown birthing parents, and “baby bonds,” a program designed to narrow the wealth gap by providing children in economically disadvantaged families savings that they can access in adulthood.  
  • Adopt a tax system for justice, to ensure that upper-income households pay a larger share of their income in taxes than those with lower incomes and to raise the collective resources DC needs to fund programs and services. 

Moms and other caregivers across the District have made their vision for DC clear. Now it’s up to the Council to decide if they will listen.