Rallying for Change

D.C. residents advocate for protection for early childhood educator salaries—which stand to be affected by a proposed district budget cut. Photo by Heather Ross.

Parents, teachers and child care providers across Washington D.C. have rallied against the proposed elimination of the Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund in D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s 2025 district budget.

The fund brings early childhood educator salaries in D.C. up to be on par with those of the district’s public school teachers—eliminating a pay disparity for early childhood educators. For many teachers and child care providers, the fund is a lifeline.

Back in April, about 300 people of all ages gathered in protest of the proposed budget cut at Samuel Gompers Memorial Park in D.C. The rally was organized by Under 3 DC, a campaign dedicated to ensuring local elected officials fund the Birth-to-Three for All
DC law.

The pay equity fund is a major component of this law, effective since 2018, which helps keep child care affordable for D.C. families and aims to strengthen pre- and postnatal care for mothers.

“We’re looking at losing teachers who are really passionate about this work, and our kids losing the stability and continuity of care with the same person that they’ve build trust with,” said Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen, director of early childhood policy with DC Action and mother of 1-year-old Reef, at the spring rally.

Anbar-Shaheen says that without the fund, D.C. is facing a bleak future where child care is unaffordable and experienced teachers are forced to leave the field to make ends meet.

“I was really shocked [about the proposed cut] because my educator for my child makes such a huge difference in our lives, our mental health, our ability to work, and she does so much important work and deserves to be paid for it,” Anbar-Shaheen says.

For Anbar-Shaheen, the affordability of child care is personal.

“My partner and I are making decisions about our family, growing our family, based on the cost of child care. The number one thing on our list is that we can’t afford to have two
kids in child care at the same time, so we need to wait until our first is in public school,” she says.

According to a recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropy based in Baltimore and working across the country towards cost-effective solutions to challenges facing young people, the cost of sending a toddler to childcare in D.C. is nearly $24,400 a year on average—nearly double that of the national average.

The proposed budget cut would also hurt teachers and their own families.

LaVonda Butler is in her sixth year of teaching at the Gan HaYeled Preschool, a Jewish school influenced by Reggio Emilia teaching in the heart of D.C. Butler lives in D.C. with her husband and their two children, ages 10 and 7.

If the proposed budget is approved, Butler says her family would struggle.

“I literally just got on, like, a good, maintainable situation as far as my bills. Now, I will have to go back and figure out how I’m going to get to the next day or the next paycheck,” Butler says. “It’s going to really hurt us.”

Noah Hichenberg, director at Gan HaYeled, says the loss of this funding will lead to having fewer teachers per class and more students.

“We’re looking at the unimaginable math of either drastically reducing teacher compensation to pre-COVID levels, which, to be very frank about it, was atrocious, or to elevate tuition to a level that will severely reduce the amount of families that can afford daycare within our community,” Hichenberg says.

According to the latest information from Under 3 DC as of May 24, the D.C. Council has initially restored $217 million of the $290 million Pay Equity Fund cut, with $53 million for 2025. However, this 75% restoration still means that nearly 600 assistant teachers will be cut from the program, other teachers will see a 12% pay cut and healthcare benefits will
go away.

On June 11, the D.C. Council is scheduled to consider the Fiscal Year 2025 Local Budget Act of 2024, Fiscal Year 2025 Federal Portion Budget Request Act of 2024 and the Fiscal Year 2024 Revised Local Budget Emergency Adjustment Act of 2024.

A final consideration of the Fiscal Year 2025 Budget Support Act of 2024 will take place on a date to be determined.

The D.C. Council’s budget timeline and oversight hearing schedule can be found online at dccouncilbudget.com.

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