Vince Gray is very proud of the legislation he sponsored making pre-k education universal for all 3- and 4-year-olds. He declared it as one of his major accomplishments in all of his town hall meetings prior to November’s general election. To be sure, early childhood education is extremely important. Children who receive high-quality child care from an early age are better prepared for school, more likely to graduate high school, go on to college, and to stay out of prison. But which service providers are able to take advantage of the money made available by this legislation is also important. [youtube]vIUjy6Z1bws[/youtube]
When the bill to make pre-k education universal was first proposed in 2008, 50 percent of the new slots provided were supposed to go to community-based child care providers. By the time the legislation was passed, that number was down to 25 percent. In addition, funding for the District’s Child Care Subsidy Program, which also benefits community-based child care providers as well as low-income parents in need of affordable child care, has been cut each of the past five years.
While Gray wants to do right by his youngest constituents, he seems less concerned about their parents or the middle-class workforce that at one time provided the backbone for DC’s tax base. A pattern that we should be familiar with from the Fenty Administration, who closed down Department of Recreation Early Childhood programs in wards 6, 7 & 8 while leaving the same programs open in the wealthier wards. This action, which Gray is unlikely to reverse, insured an increase in the unemployment rates in those wards hardest hit by the recession as child care providers from the Department of Recreation were fired. The closing of the Recreation Department child care programs also increased the burden on low-income parents by decreasing the number of affordable child care providers within the city’s poorest communities, a number which has already been decreased by the consistent de-funding of the District’s Child Care Subsidy Program.
Subsidized child care, which provides low-income parents with vouchers that pay a portion of their child care costs, is one of the most important work support programs available in DC and around the country. Child care costs can easily amount to $15,000 per year, per child. Without subsidies that help to make child care affordable for low-income families, thousands of parents in DC would be unable to work, unable to look for work or attend school so they are better qualified for work.
In addition to the huge benefits for children and their families, investing in early child care and education helps to strengthen a field whose workforce in DC is predominantly low-income women of color. Child care providers rely on these subsidies from the government to cover their costs. Without them, they would have to lay off the hundreds of people, mostly women, who work in this field. Many child care providers have already had to close their doors for good, even though these are precisely the kinds of small business that Gray claims to support.
The District of Columbia City Council will hold a a public hearing Tuesday November 30, 2010 to hear testimony regarding childcare in the District’s budget. Community members who are impacted–children, parents, child-care providers, etc., are encouraged to testify. If you are interested in testifying at the hearing, attending in support or getting more information, contact Ben Parisi, Child Care organizer for Empower DC at (202) 234-9119 or Ben (at) empowerdc.org.