Testimony of Natasha Riddle Romero
Bilingual Community Organizer, Under 3 DC
DC Council Committee on the Whole: Education
April 5, 2023
Good evening Committee Chair Mendelson and members of the Committee on Education. Thank you for allowing me to speak today about how investing in early childhood education and care is the District’s best tool for ensuring the long term wellbeing of the District’s youngest residents. My name is Natasha Riddle Romero and I am the Bilingual Community Organizer at Under 3 DC, a coalition committed to securing a strong start for every infant and toddler in DC. Today’s testimony will focus on the need to restore the $5.4 million cut to the Pay Equity Fund funding, the $3.3 million cut to the sports wagering provision for early childhood education, and our support of the Mayor’s expansion of eligibility for the child care subsidy program to 300% of poverty.
First, in order to ensure babies and toddlers are cared for in healthy environments, early educators need the Pay Equity Fund. The Mayor’s proposed cuts threaten to undermine the program right as it is entering its second phase, before it begins making payments directly to early education employers. It has been stated that the cuts applied to the Pay Equity Fund are to “right-size” the FY24 budget, however this could exclude educators who have not been able to qualify for funds, because they are considered directors or have not yet met credential requirements. Per OSSE’s own data, 37% of teachers, 35% of assistant teachers, and 82% of directors have met credential requirements that affect their ability to receive funds through the PEF. Cutting funds at this stage would make it difficult for eligibility to be expanded to other staff, many of whom still need financial support in their pursuit of required credentials. Furthermore, the funds could be used to provide relief through the HealthCare4ChildCare program.
Cutting $5.4 million from the Pay Equity Fund right as the program has begun to make payments to early education employers only increases feelings that early education work is under appreciated. Though the permanent Pay Equity Fund is still in its conceptual stages, many educators have begun to voice their distrust of its actualization. If this much is being cut this year, what will the following years bring, they ask? Will this function like the subsidy reimbursement process that underpays providers for subsidized care and must continually rely on additional funding to meet the true cost of care? Educators need these funds to be restored so that they may be provided with tangible reassurance at this crucial time.
Similarly, cutting early childhood program’s access to the sports wagering provision in the economic recovery of the sector is premature. Though those funds have never been used for early education, they could provide a much needed benefit to educators if and, by extension, families in the District, especially as eligibility for the subsidy program is expanded.
While we applaud the Mayor’s effort to expand eligibility for the subsidy program and make it possible for more District families to access care, doing so while simultaneously cutting TANF, the Back-to-Work childcare grants, the Pay Equity Fund, and early child care access to funding from the sports wagering provision doesn’t ensure those families and their educators are welcomed into a sound early education system. The District must restore cuts to these programs while expanding eligibility. This is a crucial point in the growth of the system, and everything must be done to ensure it is done equitably.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to answering any questions you may have.
Natasha Riddle Romero