Angelique Speight, Home Care Provider, Op-Ed

The DC Line

Angelique Speight: Full funding for Birth-to-Three law would expand the synergetic effect of high-quality, home-based child care centers

By Commentary  

“Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy.” It’s a common refrain touted by politicians, news outlets and others. So why don’t I, the owner of a family child care business, feel a sense of pride and recognition when I hear it?

I run a home-based child care facility in DC called Ms. P’s Child and Family Service. As the owner of a small business providing care for our youngest residents and future leaders, I make it possible for countless parents to go to work every day confident that their children are safe, learning and loved. I provide an invaluable service, I create jobs, and I pay taxes. I fuel the economy.

Angelique Speight is a member of Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity In Action. (Photo by Antwan Champion)

Though my work is important, it is undervalued. The average salary for a family child care provider is somewhere between $10 to $17 per hour — little more than minimum wage in many states. This is unsustainable for early-learning teachers, who often acquire loans when obtaining the advanced degrees needed to be a qualified teacher. Some of my staff members work multiple jobs to make ends meet. It’s not fair, especially considering these are skilled positions that require advanced schooling.

The Birth-to-Three for All DC Amendment Act of 2018, passed last year by the DC Council, offers a chance to change all of this: One of the law’s provisions, once implemented, would support teachers by raising their salaries to match teachers of older children in DC. This important legislation is not yet completely funded, but full implementation would be a big step toward equity and providing our children the best chance at a bright future.

For small businesses in the child care industry, the operational costs leave little to no profit, though our services fulfill essential needs. It can be challenging to keep up with national efforts to improve safety and quality. Though I wholeheartedly support these efforts, my balance sheet reminds me of the true cost of meeting ever-changing and increasingly stringent regulatory standards.

Centers like mine, which rely on government subsidies to operate, are constantly at risk of losing that funding and shutting our doors because there is little or no support to help us meet new quality standards. I use these subsidies so I can provide quality care to low-income families who might not otherwise be able to afford child care, and so I can make sure I have enough money coming into the center to cover daily costs. If my center falls short of new regulations that I don’t have the resources to meet, then I lose that money and the ability to provide jobs, care or security to my clients and workers.

Child care centers, especially small ones like mine, need support to make sure we can comply with regulatory changes while providing excellent care to children. The Birth-to-Three for All Act is an answer to this challenge. Provisions in the law would make it possible for child care providers to increase wages for teachers, ensuring that operators don’t have to close our doors simply because we can’t afford to pay employees livable wages. We need support like Birth-to-Three to make sure all of our children are ready for life.

What will it take for the DC government and the private sector to recognize, understand and value the broad impact of our work as early educators and child care providers in driving the economy? At workplaces across this city and beyond, employees are able to go to work because they’re satisfied and secure with their child care decisions. What’s more, the workforce of the future is now in our child care centers, acquiring the skills they’ll need later to succeed in school and the workplace.

This year, a majority of DC Council members made Birth-to-Three a priority and put money into the programs, bringing us halfway to the $30 million that the Office of the Chief Financial Officer identified as necessary in fiscal year 2020 to implement all of the provisions of the law. Unfortunately, the council’s allocations so far fall short of the resources necessary to provide the appropriate support and services for teachers, providers, children and families in DC. We need Mayor Muriel Bowser to work with the council to identify more funding for Birth-to-Three. I want to thank all the council members who made this a priority — especially Ward 1’s Brianne Nadeau, who got additional funding by leading a successful effort to take useless tax breaks away from high-tech companies and give that money to important community programs like Birth-to-Three.

If small businesses are the backbone of the economy, then home-based care centers like mine are the central nervous system that connects everything and makes it all possible. Not only do I provide skilled jobs in the community, but I also provide the safety and freedom for parents to work and make a living for their familiesThe very least the city owes to those providing care to our next generation is the same financial security afforded to other workers, so that our employees can likewise build careers that provide for their own families’ needs.

It will take the collective effort of business, government and community to ensure that the care and education of our youngest children is available in a way that’s equitable and sustainable for families as well as for the caregivers they depend on. If business leaders understood how child care supports and impacts their operations, we wouldn’t need to work so hard to convince anyone of the importance of fully funding the city’s Birth-to-Three law.  

Angelique Speight is a member of Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity In Action (SPACEs In Action), which works on creating expanded opportunities for low-income communities, with intentional outreach in Black communities.

This post has been updated to clarify a reference to $30 million as the funding level necessary for implementation.