On June 27, D.C. Council member Robert White announced his bill, ” The Bolstering Early Growth Investment Amendment Act of 2017″ (BEGIn Act) that would create a comprehensive system of early childhood development and quality education centers for toddlers in the city regardless of family income.

Council member Robert White recently introduced a bill that would create quality child development and eduction centers for toddlers. (Courtesy Photo)

“I have a daughter, Madison, who will turn one-year-old next week,” White said at a news conference at the Community Educational Research Group in Ward 8. “Madison is learning things every day and we want to provide a strong educational foundation for her at this time. My wife Christy stays with Madison for now but soon she will have to go back to work. It has been a difficult to find reasonably child care but we have done that. However, many families in the District cannot do that and the child suffers.”

White pointed out a well-known statistic that by the age of three, 85 percent of the brain’s core capacity will be formed. The council member said those early years of life are critical to the academic achievements of children.

He noted that by the time a child reaches junior and senior high schools, those who weren’t educated early experience an achievement gap that lags far behind their peers that were instructed.

While White didn’t talk about race, Black students are far behind their White peers academically in the District’s school system according to the 2016 Partnership for Assessment Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) test results. Blacks had a 17 percent proficiency in both math and English while Whites had 79 percent proficiency in English and 70 percent in math.

There is also the cost for quality early childhood education. White said that on average, it costs $1,800 per month to afford quality childhood education and “that figure is inaccessible for many residents.”

White made his announcement in Ward 8, the poorest ward in the city based on median income. The unemployment rate in Ward 8 is the highest in the city with 11.6 percent of its residents jobless according to May 2017 data released by the District’s Department of Employment Services, and it has the highest percentage of children in the city, according to District statistics. Neighboring Ward 7, which is the ward with the highest percentage of Blacks in the city, wasn’t far behind Ward 8 in the above mentioned indicators.

White said his bill would add more high quality child development centers, increase the reimbursement rate for low-income family vouchers, make it easier for early childhood development providers to open and operate their businesses, and stabilize the early care workforce. “In my research on this bill, I found that many dedicated child development center workers want to stay in the profession but they are making slightly more than minimum wage,” he said. “That’s why they move on and we want to pay people who want to work with children.”

Keesha Blythe, executive director of the National Children’s Center (NCC), supports White’s legislation. “My center is located in Ward 8,” Blythe said. “We have the greatest concentration of poverty in D.C. This bill impacts where I am because one-third of the infants in the city live in either Wards 7 or 8.”

Blythe, whose childhood development center has been around for 30 years, understands well that infants who have access to quality childhood education have a good start on their lives.  “Those years 0-3 are critical because they are ready to learn and can process reading, language, and math,” Blythe said. “Children need access to quality child care at that age.”

One of Blythe’s clients is Aliscia Jackson, a resident of Ward 7 with a son enrolled in her program. Jackson is the president of the Parent-Teacher Association at NCC and said White’s bill is needed. “There is a general lack of child care in Wards 7 and 8 and it is harder if you have a child with special needs,” she said. “The NCC is the greatest resource for my son and me.”

White’s bill has the support of D.C. Council members Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) as co-introducers and David Grosso (I-At Large) as a co-sponsor.

White formally introduced the bill on June 27 on the council dais, and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) referred the bill to the Committees on Education, Finance and Revenue with comments from Nadeau, the chairman of the Committee on Health and Human Services.

As of June 28, a hearing date has not been set for White’s bill.