Mayor Gray’s Proposed Budget Creates Mixed News for Young Children

Last week, Mayor Vincent Gray released his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins in October. DC Action has been reading through it, and we’re already seeing some important changes that will affect DC’s young children. The proposed budget contains some exciting program funding expansions, as well as some concerning omissions and budget cuts. Below we’ve discussed just a selection of items that jumped out at us, and we will continue to dig deeper to make sure all DC children are accounted for in the budget. We would love to hear from you – what do you think of these proposed changes? What are the programs for children and families in which DC should invest more?

We’ll start with the bad news, and end with the good.

Important programs for children and youth go on the wish list

Mayor Gray included a wish list along with his proposed budget. These programs are first in line for increased funding if revenues exceed expectations. Unfortunately, three of the top five programs on the wish list are very important for DC children. They include an expansion of child care availability and subsidies, an expansion of school mental health programs and more summer jobs for youth. As we wrote in a recent data snapshot, expanding the number of child care slots and improving the child care subsidy program is a pressing concern for DC families with infants and toddlers. Instead of the $11 million investment in child care Mayor Gray envisions in the wish list, child care subsidies are set to decrease by $1.5 million due to automatic federal budget cuts (known as sequestration). We hope these vital programs for children and youth make it off Mayor Gray’s wish list and into the budget ASAP.

Reduced Funds for Perinatal and Infant Health

$1.25 million reduction for perinatal and infant health through the Department of Health. This budget item includes the Home Visitation program, which, as we recently wrote to the DC Council Committee on Health, effectively reduces health and education disparities before they start by providing home-based support to pregnant women and new parents. The decreased funding is mostly in federal funds, potentially due to federal budget sequestration. Currently, DC contributes no local funds to this important program. 

A Mixed Bag for Early Intervention and Special Education for Young Children

$6.4 million increase for the Strong Start Early Intervention Program, run by the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE), which coordinates early intervention for children ages zero to three who have developmental delays and disabilities. This represents a 185% increase from the FY2013 budget. These funds will help the program meet increased demand for services due to better screening, expand program eligibility to four-year-olds (along with other eligibility changes) and improve the transition from early intervention to school-based services. This large local investment is great news for infants and toddlers with delays or disabilities and their families.

$766,000 reduction for Early Stages, DC Public Schools’ (DCPS) program for children ages three to five who are eligible for special education and related services. This represents a 10% decrease from the FY2013 budget. The decrease is puzzling, as we might expect increased demand for Early Stages based on increased DCPS Pre-K enrollment and more referrals from Strong Start.Now that Strong Start will extend to age four, perhaps DCPS anticipates a decrease in Early Stages demand. We trust that DCPS will explain this at upcoming budget hearings.

Schools Budget More for Pre-K

Spending on Pre-K for children ages three and four is increasing for both DCPS and public charter schools. This is due to increasing Pre-K enrollment across the board, and a two percent increase in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (UPSFF), which allocates funds to DC schools based on the number of students they enroll. The youngest students are weighted more heavily than other grades in the funding formula b ecause of the low student/teacher ratios in early childhood classrooms. Increased investment in preschool is great news for DC children and families, and it makes sense: high-quality early care and education positions children to succeed throughout their academic careers. But, we must continue to advocate for high-quality (not just high-quantity) early care and education services in all DC neighborhoods. 

These proposed budget changes are not set in stone. In the coming weeks, the DC Council will hold hearings to review each agency’s proposed budget and listen to the concerns of community members, advocates and other stakeholders. We will be there to testify in support of effective and equitable investments in the future of our city’s youngest citizens. Keep an eye on the blog or follow us on Twitter to stay up to date.

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