Help shape D.C.'s Early Childhood Advisory Council

In the District, as in many states, child care, pre-kindergarten, special education services, Early Head Start, Head Start and early intervention operate in separate programmatic and policy silos, each with myriad—even conflicting—objectives and funding streams. The consequence is uncoordinated early childhood policy, which can often degrade access, quality and the return on investment of such programs.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when I hear from parents or program administrators challenged in getting answers from the system when it comes to the care and education of our youngest and most vulnerable children. And I hear these stories all the time. Take for example, parents who might not be aware that their child is eligible for Head Start or Medicaid, and do not apply as a result. Or the program director who has duplicative paperwork to complete in order to receive subsidy reimbursements. What about the kindergarten teacher who is not informed that a child entering his or her class has special needs, resulting in compromised attention for the child? 

Who is responsible? Who do you go to fix the problem?

D.C. citizens now have venue to voice these concerns. Mayor Fenty established the District’s Early Childhood Advisory Council in May—of which I am both humbled and privileged to serve as a member. On July 8, OSSE will hold a public forum to review the District’s three-year strategic plan to better coordinate early care and education programs and services. Click here for more info.

Some background: The Head Start Reauthorization Act of 2007 mandated that governors (in our case, the Mayor) designate an Early Childhood Advisory Council to develop a coordinated system of early childhood education and care. These councils went unfunded until a $100 million investment arrived through the federal stimulus in February 2009. A year ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began accepting applications for grants to support the councils, and states are now working to bring them into full existence.

Though this is a federal mandate, the possibilities are endless for the role of such a council in the District. First and foremost, it exists for the express purpose of promoting collaboration. Such a council includes high-level representatives and the presence of a solid funding source—the potential of it all!  

The New America Foundation has a report to help states create effective councils. Among other things, it recommends policymakers position the ECAC as a key player in the policy process, expand the definition of early childhood through third grade, focus on system alignment and ensure that both private and public early childhood services are considered when crafting policies and funding strategies. 

Great advice—but D.C.’s Early Childhood Advisory Council will only be as useful as all of you make it. The OSSE forum is your chance to be heard and hopefully get your questions answered. I’ll be there, so be sure to introduce yourself!