Agency Budget Hearing, Fiscal Year 2017, Office of the State Superintendent of Education

Today we testified during the FY17 Budget Hearing for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education on the importance of supporting early literacy and affordable, quality child care in the District. We also dicuss the role data infrastructure development can play in improving child well-being. Read our full remarks below.


Testimony of HyeSook Chung, Deputy Director

DC Action for Children 

Agency Budget Hearing, Fiscal Year 2017

Office of the State Superintendent of Education 

Before the Committee on Education

Council of the District of Columbia

April 18, 2016


Good morning, Councilmember Grosso and members of the Committee on Education. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council as it reviews the proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. My name is HyeSook Chung, and I am the Executive Director of DC Action for Children (DC Action), a DC resident and the proud parent of two DC public school students.


DC Action for Children provides data-based analysis and policy leadership on critical issues facing DC children and youth in order to promote policies and actions that optimize child and family well-being.


DC Action is the home of DC KIDS COUNT, a project that tracks key indicators of child well-being in the DC neighborhoods where children live, learn and grow. We work closely with city agencies, the school system and service providers to share the most accurate and timely data coupled with clear and accessible analysis. Our advocacy agenda is based on these data.


My testimony today will focus primarily on Office of the State Superintendent’s (OSSE) leadership role in supporting the birth-to-eight educational pipeline in the District.


Supports for Third Grade Reading

The ability to read proficiently by the third grade is one of the best predictors of a student’s later academic success. That is because the third grade marks an important turning point when students transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Students who are not proficient readers by the end of 3rd grade often struggle to catch up and are four times more likely to drop out of school than those who read proficiently. In February, DC Action released a policy brief exploring recent trends in third grade reading performance in the District. Despite a wide array of educational reforms under the DC Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA), our analysis of DC CAS scores found that third grade reading proficiency did not improve for students citywide between 2007 and 2014. We also found a statistically significant decline in reading scores for economically disadvantaged and for black third graders. It is important to note that the District is not alone in struggling to raise reading proficiency rates. However, these findings serve as a reminder that we must continue to think critically and reexamine how we allocate resources, from birth through graduation, in order to ensure that we prioritize the evidenced-based programs that most benefit the District’s students.


It is given this context that we are pleased to see the renewal of the $1.6 million Early Literacy Grant program in the mayor’s proposed budget. The program provides funding to approved, non-profit organizations to provide professionally coached, daily reading interventions. Notably, the grant stipulates that the proposed literacy intervention models used by grant recipients must be comprehensive and have been proven effective in one or more experimental studies. As this grant continues into its second year, we look forward to learning more about its results and exploring whether any of the funded models show sufficient promise to be brought to scale.


Need for Quality Child Care in the District

While the Early Literacy Grant program is a promising step towards identifying literacy programs that can help narrow the achievement gap in reading, it must be part of a broader system of support. We know that the academic achievement gaps begin early in life, before children even start prekindergarten, and that children in low-income families are most likely to enter Pre-K already behind their peers. In a landmark study, researchers identified a 30 million word gap between three-year old children of affluent families and those living in low-income households enrolled in safety net programs.[i] A recent Stanford study indicates that at 36 months, children in low-income families are on average 6-months behind their higher income peers in processing skills critical to language development.[ii] Unfortunately, what begins as a word gap at age three becomes a visible academic performance gap by third grade. To meaningfully address learning gaps when they begin, infants and toddlers in low-income families must have access to quality early care and education programs, including quality child care, home visiting programs and early intervention.   


DC Action for Children commends OSSE, under the leadership of the Assistant Superintendent of Early Learning Elizabeth Groginsky and this committee for its work in support of the District’s early care and education system. Through initiatives like the Quality Improvement Network (QIN), the District is taking real strides towards developing a comprehensive system of supports for infants and toddlers and their families. We are pleased that the mayor’s proposed FY2017 budget includes $3.6 million to fund the new Federal Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) legislation. A portion of these funds will be used to meet new requirements in the CCDF reauthorization, like more rigorous background checks, and an estimated $2.6 million will go to enhancing the quality of child care in the District overall. We are confident that OSSE will ensure that these funds are used strategically to maximize their impact on the infants and toddlers and their families enrolled in the District’s subsidized child care program.


Identifying the Costs of Quality Child Care

The District was one of the first localities to take advantage of a new provision in the reauthorized CCDF law that allows for the use of a cost model analysis to inform child care reimbursement rates. Cost modeling is an early childhood financial analysis approach that estimates the actual cost of delivering child care services at different levels of quality. Until now, the subsidy rate has been set using market studies, which involve identifying the price that providers are able to charge – an amount that is often dictated by how much parents are willing to pay rather than the quality of care provided. Not surprisingly, this approach has not resulted in improvement in the quality of child care.


The findings from the cost model analysis, which were released this March, provide quantitative evidence of what is common knowledge for most child care providers – it is extremely difficult to provide high-quality care to low-income children and break even as a business. In fact, the analysis found that under the current subsidy reimbursement rates, a small child center that serves low-income infants and toddlers would have a predicted budget shortfall of over $200,000 if they were to meet all the requirements necessary to earn a gold rating on the District’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). We encourage OSSE to use these findings as the impetus to adjust subsidy reimbursement rates to levels that encourage providers to improve their quality rating without risking financial instability.  


Building Data Infrastructure

Here at DC Action, we recognize the power of data to shape public policy that in turn supports the well-being of children and families in Washington, DC. In recent years, OSSE has made significant improvements to the ways it collects, uses and shares data. We applaud OSSE’s development of the Student Longitudinal Data System (SLED) and encourage further development and refinement of this important system. That’s why we are pleased to see an additional $1.1 million allocated to support the development of SLED. This funding will bring on an additional ten full time employees to ensure that OSSE’s data team is fully staffed and can meet the diverse data needs of the city’s education stakeholders. This funding is on top of $11.9 million allocated over the next ten years to support the District’s data infrastructure, ensuring both its quality and integration across different sectors and agencies. These investments are crucial to supporting data-driven decision making by education stakeholders at all levels. In particular, we are excited about the potential that further integration of early childhood data into the SLED presents and are hopeful that OSSE will continue to move towards this goal.


Now that the core of SLED is up and running, we hope that OSSE will continue to expand access to this important student-level data source to the city’s education stakeholders. Access to education data helps promote a culture of shared responsibility for student growth. Opening access to de-identified student-level data in SLED would allow OSSE to leverage the collective insight and innovation of a diverse array of organizations to address a broader range of research topics related to student outcomes than would otherwise not be possible.


Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am happy to answer any questions that you may have.



[i] Hart, Becky and Risley, Todd, “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age Three,” The American Educator (Spring 2003).

[ii] Anne Fernald, Virginia A. Marchman, and Adriana Weisleder, “SES Differences in Language Processing Skill and Vocabulary are Evident at 18 Months” (2013) Developmental Science, 16.2, 234-248. 

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