Three DC Action Coalitions come together for a Community Conversation with Deputy Mayor For Education Paul Kihn

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Over 80 supporters from three of DC Action’s coalitions met with Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn to discuss what investments the District must make in order to ensure an equitable recovery from the pandemic that includes children and families, especially those who have been hardest hit. Under 3 DC, the DC Out-of-School Time (OST) Coalition, and the Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition spoke with Deputy mayor Kihn on January 27 to share recommendations to strengthen early childhood education, out-of-school time (OST), and youth homelessness supports.

In response to the early childhood education presentation, Deputy Mayor Kihn shared his support for providing pay increases to the District’s early childhood educators, and that he is interested in learning more about language access concerns for limited-English proficiency early childhood educators. When OST coalition members raised questions about whether the District plans to dedicate local, recurring dollars to replace federal relief funds for OST, Kihn stressed that every program receiving federal relief funds is asking similar questions as they plan for the future. While he did not speak to specific dollar figures that the District could commit to OST, Kihn reinforced his personal support for OST providers and the critical programming they provide for youth and families. Regarding questions from the Youth Justice Coalition around how the District can better connect youth experiencing homelessness to meaningful job opportunities, Kihn noted that while DC has prioritized youth workforce programming and work-based learning, there may be a need to carve out space in some of these programs specifically for youth experiencing homelessness.

Read on for a full summary of the meeting.

Prioritizing Pay Equity for Early Childhood Educators

The early educators who care for and nurture DC’s youngest residents have long been underappreciated and underpaid. Sally D’Italia, co-chair of the Under 3 DC Program Funding & Compensation Committee, laid out the coalition’s priorities for early childhood education. The first is to release funds from the Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Funds to educators this fiscal year without regard for documentation status. D’Italia pointed to research from the Urban Institute showing that average median pay for early educators in DC is $17 an hour, a rate not consistent with OSSE’s educational requirements for these roles, which by 2023 will require early educators to have an Associate of Arts degree in early education.

Other priorities include:

  • Minimize the loss of public benefits for educators receiving supplemental pay
  • Provide ample and robust technical assistance to early educators to access these funds
  • Provide information in educators’ preferred language

The coalition shared another barrier impacting early educators who have limited English proficiency (LEP): a lack of access to resources that LEP educators need to take advantage of benefits like subsidies and some of the educational requirements set by OSSE. Under 3 DC Bilingual Organizer Natasha Riddle Romero said OSSE, in particular, should invest in more resources for translation and interpretation, language access training, and hiring bilingual staff.

“These restrictive and exclusionary policies are going to affect the sector as a whole and drive more people out of an already strained workforce,” Riddle Romero said. “I hope that in addition to investing in educators who speak English that there will also be an investment in limited-English proficient educators.”

Bringing Collaboration and Stability to OST

In the District’s OST sector, many programs are grappling with the same kind of staffing shortages and employee burnout that is impacting the education workforce. Wida Amir, co-chair of the DC OST Coalition and Director of Global Kids-DC, described these challenges to Deputy Mayor Kihn and called for increased collaboration with OST programs to address not only that concern, but also the myriad others that will come up as the pandemic continues. Amir mentioned that the relationships the Learn24 office has cultivated with grantees are an example of successful collaboration and problem-solving, and that this same model should be reflected in other education agencies connected to OST. Kihn agreed that the District’s education agencies must work hand in hand with OST programs to create solutions that are informed by programs’ experiences.

One set of challenges that programs may soon face is related to funding. Neel Saxena, Chief Advancement Officer at Fair Chance and DC OST Coalition co-chair, reminded the Deputy Mayor about the fiscal cliff that the OST sector may face in 2024, when the federal funds allocated to OST through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 will expire. These funds provided a significant boost to OST at a difficult time for many programs, and Saxena emphasized the need for DC to commit local, recurring dollars to replace the one-time funds.

Kihn acknowledged this concern and stressed that every program receiving federal relief funds is asking similar questions as they plan for the future. While he did not speak to specific dollar figures that the District could commit to OST, Kihn reinforced his personal support for OST providers and the critical programming they provide for youth and families.

“Over the course of this pandemic, many of us have appreciated the power and importance of OST more and more,” Kihn said.

The DC OST Coalition will continue to advocate for full funding for OST so that programs can build capacity and expand their impact even after the federal funds run out.

Connecting Youth Experiencing Homelessness to Opportunities

One category of youth that is often the most difficult to connect with crucial services is those experiencing homelessness. In DC, 1 and 15 students in DC Public Schools and DC public charter schools are known to experience homelessness each year, and the vast majority of them are Black. DC Action’s Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition members spoke to Deputy Mayor Kihn about what the District must do to expand access to the comprehensive supports and resources that youth need to transition from homelessness.

The first of these is a workforce development program for youth experiencing homelessness, who have unique needs that the current system does not meet. DC Action Senior Policy Analyst and Youth Justice Coalition Co-Chair Rachel White said such a program must be trauma-informed, provide stipends and incentives, and result in employment or further education for youth participants.

Kihn noted that DC has invested heavily in youth workforce programming and work-based learning, but that there may be a need to carve out space in some of these programs for youth experiencing homelessness.

Another priority for supporting youth experiencing homelessness is re-engaging youth who have become disconnected from schools during the pandemic. Executive Director of the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project and Youth Justice Coalition Co-chair Jamila Larson told Deputy Mayor Kihn that as the homeless support system in DC shifts away from shelters, schools are increasingly becoming hubs for unhoused youth to receive support.

“The pandemic has meant that we know much less about students than before,” Larson said. “Fewer students experiencing homelessness are being identified or enrolled in schools, with significant unmet needs remaining.”

Larson asked Kihn how the District’s education agencies are working to re-engage disconnected students and address learning loss that threatens to derail opportunities for students, especially those experiencing homelessness.

The Deputy Mayor said that while public school enrollment overall did not decrease last year, his office remains deeply concerned about students who may be enrolled but not attending school, including those experiencing homelessness. To address this, the District ran an outreach campaign to families about safety protocols and resources, and looped in schools, who are the primary point of connection to many families. In addition, the Deputy Mayor’s office worked with the Child and Family Services Agency to increase staffing in the triage unit, which is the non-punitive unit that connects with families to help them overcome barriers to attending school.

To make up for missed learning due to the pandemic, the DME’s office is promoting “high-impact tutoring” at schools, in OST programs, and in nontraditional places including summer camps and job placements where students can receiving tutoring while also earning money and getting job experience.

Kihn said meetings like this are a valuable opportunity for advocates and providers of services that benefit youth and families to share observations and ideas from real-life experiences and hold the government accountable.

“You all really do bring new and creative ideas to the table and challenge me and challenge us in the government to think bigger and better in OST, early childhood, and other areas to bring programs and services to our residents to address the needs we have as a city,” Kihn said.

February 3, 2022