This post was co-written with Anne Gunderson from DC Fiscal Policy Institute.
More early educators, most of whom are Black and brown, are poised to see salary increases under a change to the Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund (PEF) that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) announced last week. The PEF is a compensation program aimed at putting early educators’ minimum salaries on par with those of DC Public School (DCPS) teachers and in line with their skills and credentials. OSSE is increasing the size of the PEF grant to child development facilities (CDFs) by 30 percent and increasing the equity adjustment. This improvement is in response to advocates’ and practitioners’ calls for increased financial support to CDFs who could not otherwise afford to meet the required salary minimums. Increased grant levels are effective only for the next year and a step in the right direction, but OSSE should work with stakeholders to improve the grant formula thereafter to ensure the program is accessible to all CDFs.
DC lawmakers created the PEF in 2021 to fulfill part of the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act and to disrupt the pervasive and centuries-long undervaluing of caregiving due to structural racism and sexism. OSSE has been providing supplemental payments directly to Teachers and Lead Teachers in CDFs since August of 2022. In October, OSSE will launch the next phase of the program and begin distributing funds directly to CDFs in January 2024 using a formula built on:
- The number of eligible educators per facility,
- Funding to cover administrative costs, and
- An equity adjustment targeting additional funding to CDFs participating in the child care subsidy program, which makes care affordable to families with low and moderate incomes.
CDFs will use grant funding to pay their workers directly and meet the required salary minimums, raising pay by tens of thousands of dollars annually for some teachers.
The original design of the formula, however, failed to provide all CDFs with adequate levels of funding to meet the minimum salary requirements, meaning some early educators would miss out on this historic win. That’s because the base award is calculated by taking the difference between the average salary of assistant and lead teachers in DC, respectively, and the required minimum salaries, by role and credential, then multiplying those differences by the number of educators within a CDF. This approach to calculating the base award makes it difficult for providers to participate in the PEF if their educators are currently paid below the average salaries, which OSSE derived from a survey it conducted. This means our lowest paid educators may miss out under OSSE’s original formula.
In response to early learning stakeholders’ advocacy for additional support to help CDFs meet the minimum salary requirements, OSSE increased all CDF payroll funding formula awards by 30 percent for fiscal year (FY) 2024 (Figure 1). Facilities that participate in the subsidy program will also benefit from an increased equity adjustment in FY 2024. OSSE will also offer a one-year waiver for CDFs that lack sufficient funds to meet the minimum salaries, even after accounting for the increased funding formula awards and equity adjustment.
For CDFs that were on the cusp of qualifying for the PEF (those who are currently paying educators just below the average wage), and for those who participate in the subsidy program, these changes will likely allow them to participate. The waivers will also provide data to better understand the needs of CDFs that still don’t qualify, even with the FY 2024 increases.
To ensure the maximum number of early educators benefit from the PEF, OSSE should collaborate with stakeholders to improve the funding formula to ensure it meets the needs of all CDFs. Increasing the payout of the PEF is a good start, but increased funding should be directed at the facilities that need more funding to meet the minimum salary requirements, rather than offering a blanket increase. Or, short of that, OSSE could consider using the minimum wage or the median wage for early educators as the basis of the award amount, rather than the average wage, so that facilities currently paying educators below the average can participate. Future iterations of the formula should also allow programs to implement a full salary scale that is on par with that of DCPS teachers, based on years of experience, rather than just minimum salaries, as envisioned in the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act.
These recommendations would better position OSSE to build towards a racially-just early education workforce and system.