D.C.’s Devastating Proposal Kills Support for Its Early Childhood Educators

Last week, Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington D.C. released her proposed 2025 fiscal year budget – and devastating news for its child care system. The budget proposal includes massive, multi-year cuts to child care subsidies for families and permanently eliminates the Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund and HealthCare4ChildCare. 

Until now, the District’s Pay Equity Fund has been an inspiring model to states and localities across the country who have been watching and learning from the Fund. Washington, D.C. had been leading the nation in a moment when early childhood educators and the families who rely on their services desperately need state and local leaders to step up for them, not step back.

Before the pay equity fund, the median wage of a child care worker in the District was just $15.36 an hour, and their rate of poverty was 5.8 times higher than K-8 teachers. The 2022 passage of the Pay Equity Fund was a down payment on righting the pay and conditions for early educators. Slashing the fund shifts the burden onto the backs of educators who are expected to subsidize the system by accepting poverty-level wages.

You cannot have a quality child care system without a well-prepared, well-compensated, and well-supported workforce. Nationally, almost all other occupations (98 percent) earn more than child care teachers, and as a result, early educators face poverty rates nearly eight times higher on average than K-8 teachers.   

The cut will be felt far beyond the lives of early childhood educators and their families. By permanently cutting pay and health benefits for more than 4,000 educators in D.C., Mayor Bowser will be responsible for many educators leaving child care for higher-paying jobs. That means fewer slots for families who already struggle to find the care and education their children need, which in turn will cost local businesses as their employees are forced to stay home. 

The news is especially outrageous because, until last week, D.C. was notably supportive of its early childhood educators, 83 percent of whom are people of color, according to our analysis of the American Community Survey. Only a little more than two years ago, the mayor and city council made history and unanimously approved short-term direct payments of $10,000-$14,000 to eligible educators while they built a foundation for compensation reform. 

So far, the fund has delivered close to $80 million in payments to roughly 4,000 early childhood educators, though they have yet to achieve pay parity with K -12 educators. But they had reason to hope that their pay would increase. A program-level funding formula was just beginning to be used, with a salary scale that offered parity for educators across settings, including infant-toddler educators, with their K-8 counterparts. All of this was possible because of public funds dedicated to early childhood pay equity. 

Yet now the promises, the plan, and the pay to support the educators who are critical to a secure child care system are on the chopping block. 

The mayor can walk back her proposal – and we hope that is the case. Early care and education advocates, educators, parents, and business leaders spoke out last Thursday at a D.C. Council education hearing, making strong arguments for supporting early educators, children, and families. On Friday, over 200 teachers protested the proposal.  

It’s time for the district to restore its strong support and funding to keep its remarkable program moving forward — and to continue to inspire states and localities as they strive to improve early childhood educator compensation. Otherwise, this is not just a failure for Washington, D.C. educators and families, but for educators across the United States.