Chairman Catania and members of the Committee on Education, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Soumya Bhat, and I am the Education Finance and Policy Analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI engages in research and public education on the fiscal and economic health of the District of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on policies that affect low- and moderate-income residents.
I would like to focus my testimony on the early learning, adult education, and homeless children and youth programs operated at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). We urge the Council to support both ends of the cradle-to-career spectrum and our most vulnerable students by doing the following:
- Early Learning: Approve the proposed budget’s $7 million in increased funding for early learning to improve the quality and capacity of our child care system.
- Adult Education: Add $340,000 to OSSE’s adult and family education budget to support a contract to assess 200 adult learners for learning disabilities, and identify resources to maintain a $4 million partnership between OSSE and the Department of Employment Services.
- Services for Homeless Students: Review the adequacy of services to homeless students, and make local investments to expand these services if needed.
DCFPI strongly supports the $7 million in new funds for early learning in the mayor’s proposed budget. The plan for this funding is two-fold ‘ to improve the quality of child care in the city and to expand the capacity of providers that serve low-income families through the city’s child care subsidy program. We think this is good news for children and for working parents looking for affordable care that meets their children’s developmental needs.
The District has been working to develop a more systematic way of improving the quality of programs serving children birth to five, and $4 million of the new funds allocated to OSSE’s Department of Early Childhood Education will be used to continue to raise the quality of child care. Some of these funds will be used to establish a common approach to assess and evaluate the quality of child care programs as part of the city’s early childhood Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). Providers who meet certain requirements are given rating levels of quality (bronze, silver, gold) and corresponding rates for reimbursement. The rating system is meant to incentivize providers to reach higher levels of quality while also helping parents have the information they need to select a high quality provider. Given that the biggest share of providers are at the bronze rating level, investments to boost the quality of care are important.
In addition, some of the new funds will go to developing new quality improvement “hubs” in selected DC neighborhoods. These hubs will provide Early Head Start services, an evidence-based model that emphasizes the family’s social and economic needs, access to community supports, and staff development, along with the physical, social-emotional, and language development of each child. The hubs will be a source of technical assistance and professional development for other providers. Neighborhoods with high levels of need will be prioritized for these services. Finally, the proposed budget will also provide financial incentives to community-based providers that serve three- and four-year old children. These organizations receive far less funding per child than do pre-kindergarten services funded through the school funding formula. DCFPI supports this but feels it would be helpful to learn more from OSSE about how these funds will be distributed to providers.
To read the complete testimony, click here.