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D.C. will give early educators $10,000 checks to reflect their "skill" and "worth"

Addressing the child care crisis
How the pandemic is making the child care crisis worse 07:47

Thousands of early-childhood educators in Washington, D.C., will receive checks of at least $10,000 from their local government, after the city council voted in favor of the measure Tuesday. 

Higher taxes on Washington's wealthiest residents will make the direct payments, which can range up to $14,000, to day-care workers and other caregivers for infants and toddlers. Council members last year voted to set aside some $54 million earned in the first year of the new tax to subsidize day-care workers' wages through an early-childhood pay equity fund.

The D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education is developing a mechanism for distributing the checks. Qualified workers will likely have to apply for the funds once the grant program is established. 

Not "a stop along the way"

Advocates for early-childhood education workers, comprised largely of women of color and immigrants, have long highlighted the inequities in how such teachers are compensated. 

Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen, who led the efforts to increase day-care workers' pay in D.C., said investing in teachers is the first step in expanding high-quality child care alternatives. 

'We have to invest in the teachers so they are able to make ends meet on their own and are able to come to work every day and dedicate their days to caring for young children," she told CBS MoneyWatch. "For a long time we've ignored the needs of the teachers, and if we want programs to be high quality and available and affordable, we have to publicly invest so they can see this as a career rather than a stop along the way in their career." 

Early-childhood teaches nationwide earn a median wage of $11.65 an hour, according to the 2020 Early Childhood Workforce Index from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California at Berkeley. That amounts to roughly $24,000 per year — below the federal poverty line for a family of four.

Operators of day-care centers also face challenges. To boost their workers pays, they would have to charge parents more for day care, putting the cost of child care out of reach for many families that need it the most.  

"We have circumstances where what parents can afford is directly linked to what teachers in child care programs are paid. So it is not about what it costs to deliver child care or what people need to have decent benefits to be child care teacher, because there is so little public money in the system," Lea J.E. Austin, director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, told CBS MoneyWatch last year. 

"Milestone" for U.S. cities

D.C. is responding to advocates' calls for more public investment in child care. While other cities have experimented with direct cash grants to caregivers, Washington is the first city in the U.S. to stand up a program of this scale. 

"I think this is yet another milestone for our city as we lead the nation in investing in the educational foundations of all of our children," council member Janeese Lewis George said at Tuesday's meeting. 

Providing early-childhood educators with wages "that reflect their skill and their worth" will also allow the city to grow the local child care sector, she addd. 

George hopes other cities and states will follow D.C's lead in helping early educators earn a living wages, which experts say is necessary for reducing the field's high rate of turnover.  

"Stain" on childcare system

Parents of young children rely on caregivers to have careers and go to work — without them, many parents would be forced to withdraw from the labor force altogether. "They play a critical role in the lives of our young people, making it possible for parents to work and provide for their families," council member Christina Henderson said. 

But caregivers have been overlooked. "For so long [they] have been paid at a level that does not represent the value they contribute to our community," Henderson added. 

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education will distribute the $53.9 million as direct supplemental payments to educators' salaries over the next year. 

Advocates call it a step forward in the fight to overhaul the way childcare in the U.S. is paid for and funded. 

"The poor pay for these educators, mostly women of color, many immigrants, has been a stain in the child care system for a long time," council member Charles Allen said. 

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