Under 3 DC has a big dream: to create and sustain a high-quality, equitable early childhood system. The Coalition, made up of nearly 50 organizations, harnesses the voices and power of parents, educators and other caregivers to increase public investments to support families with infants and toddlers. In 2016, the foundation created an alliance of partner organizations that evolved into the Coalition, and today, we directly support a third of the Coalition partners to actively participate in advocacy efforts for early care and education. In the fall of 2019, the Coalition launched the Under 3 DC campaign, which in just two years achieved one of the nation’s biggest policy wins for early childhood educators at the local level.
Building on a major policy victory in 2018 — the Birth to Three for All DC Act — the Under 3 DC campaign set out to fund a provision of the act that called for compensation increases for early childhood educators. The Coalition put a spotlight on the District of Columbia’s early childhood educators — predominantly Black and brown women — who often do not receive livable wages or competitive compensation packages (salaries and benefits) for the valuable and highly skilled work they do to educate young children and support families in the District. Through the campaign, in 2021, the Coalition secured $60 million in new annual funding to increase the compensation of D.C.’s early childhood educators.
“Shifting the narrative was paramount in the process of moving decision-makers to take the action that was needed to ensure that the frontline workers who educate and care for D.C.’s most treasured children receive the investment they deserve,” says LaDon Love, Executive Director of SPACEs In Action.
“Shifting the narrative was paramount in the process of moving decision-makers to take the action that was needed to ensure that the frontline workers who educate and care for D.C.’s most treasured children receive the investment they deserve.”
The COVID-19 pandemic increased awareness of the essential role of early childhood educators. The Coalition leveraged this fact, and a strong, local early childhood advocacy infrastructure, to pass a small tax increase for D.C. residents making $250,000 or more to support competitive compensation for early childhood educators. The Coalition worked on a revenue plan, conducted surveys to show community support for the effort and used social media to mobilize stakeholders from across the city. The campaign centered the voices of parents, providers and educators by conducting “teach-ins” that 1) focused on why their voices mattered, particularly those who were most impacted and what change they could drive; 2) provided education on the budget process and revenue plan; and 3) offered clear talking points and messaging.
When the DC Council declined to grant stakeholders a hearing on the proposal, the campaign held a “People’s Hearing” where dozens of parents, families and providers testified on the importance of increased compensation for early childhood educators. “If they weren’t going to do [a hearing], we were going to do one ourselves,” recounts Tazra Mitchell of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. The hearing caught the attention of key Councilmembers, who ended up participating in the hearing, and was ultimately the key to the success of the initiative.
The result was a 2022 budget that included a tax increase to generate a sustainable local funding source that will be used for increased compensation for thousands of early childhood educators across the District. However, advocacy will need to continue to support implementation and identify other funding sources to fully fund increased compensation for all early childhood educators in D.C.
Jacob Feinspan, Executive Director of Jews United for Justice, summed up the Coalition’s success: “It was recognized from the beginning of this campaign that this was an ‘all of us’ problem. We built an advocacy effort that was cross-race, cross-class and cross-discipline — that actually unified the city rather than pitting people against each other. And we did it in a way that centered racial equity, making sure that the people most affected were at the center. We are now the national leader around compensation expansion. There is a lot of work still to be done, but we are being looked to for what can be learned.”