The Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund
Experts agree that early childhood education is vital to childhood development. Nevertheless, early childhood educators are notoriously underpaid. According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, early childhood educators face “poverty rates an average of 7.7 times higher than teachers in the K-8 system,” and the problem is especially acute in regions with a high cost of living.
The District of Columbia wanted to do something about it. In 2021, the D.C. Council passed legislation that created a fund to increase early childhood educator compensation and a Task Force to make recommendations about how funds should be used. The Task Force recommended that OSSE partner with an intermediary organization to distribute supplemental payments while developing a longer-term strategy to supplement the salaries of early childhood educators.
Based on these recommendations, the Early Childhood Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force Temporary Amendment Act authorized OSSE to provide funds to early childhood educators in the District, helping to close the gap between their pay and the cost of living.
OSSE turned to AidKit. With AidKit’s experienced team and powerful technology platform, OSSE was able to quickly process applications and deliver no-strings-attached cash payments of up to $14,000 to thousands of eligible early childhood educators.
“We had a pool of money to meet a great need. How were we going to make sure it got in the hands of early childhood educators?” Sara Mead, Deputy Superintendent of Early Learning, Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE)
OSSE faced several practical challenges in distributing the funds. They had methods for sending money to child development facilities, but no way to deliver cash to individuals. Many DC early childhood educators spoke English as a second language but preferred to read official documents and receive customer support in Amharic or Spanish. Some were unbanked. Others were uncomfortable with modern technology and wary of complicated online processes.
OSSE took all these factors into account and sought a solution that would quickly and seamlessly get eligible early childhood educators through the application process and put direct payments into their hands.
“What would you tell an organization looking to replicate your model?” “I would tell them to work with AidKit.” Sara Mead, Deputy Superintendent of Early Learning, OSSE
Of all the solutions OSSE looked into, AidKit was the only one that met their every need ‘out of the box.’ It could translate applications into more than 30 languages. It was mobile-friendly and easy to use, and eliminated the redundancy typical of government applications, asking only once for any given document or item of personal information. It offered several ways to receive payments, including prepaid credit cards for those without bank accounts. It had powerful fraud-prevention measures built into the platform, and could even verify eligibility by checking applications against OSSE’s child care licensing data.
OSSE also had the support of AidKit Senior Program Manager Ruthie Tesfaye, an Amharic speaker with a background in education. Ruthie provided hands-on support as OSSE prepared and launched the application process, and participated in OSSE’s two virtual information sessions held in English, Spanish and Amharic to go over required documents, direct applicants to further support and answer individual questions. Applicants reported that the sessions made the process much easier, and that seeing the people behind the program helped them feel more comfortable giving out sensitive information like Social Security Numbers and banking details. AidKit's dedicated staff enabled OSSE to assist facilities with special circumstances, such as staff members who didn’t have personal email addresses or cell phone numbers.
Partnering with–and fairly compensating–local community based organizations to amplify impact and reach those who need additional support has been part of AidKit’s model since its inception. AidKit brought in the Multicultural Spanish Speaking Providers Association (MSSPA) to inform program design, conduct community outreach and provide applicant support to Spanish and Amharic speaking educators. MSSPA held several Saturday sessions at a local child development facility where applicants could drop in to ask questions or receive one-on-one support. MSSPA staff also went in person to assist child development facilities with a high number of incomplete or missing applications.
“People in this field often feel that they are not recognized, respected, or valued. It meant so much that the District is making an investment in early childhood education— and AidKit took the steps to make the application and distribution of funds so accessible.” Sara Mead, Deputy Superintendent of Early Learning, OSSE
The Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund is still ongoing, with additional supplemental payments scheduled for fiscal year 2023. The full extent of its impact is yet to be measured. But participants say that the funds are helping them feel more financially secure and enabling important purchases in their lives. One educator was able to replace a car that broke down. Others are using the funds to pay for their own educational advancement. Still others are saving the money for a down payment on a home, or for retirement. Many educators are parents, so having additional financial resources makes quality of life better for their children as well.
OSSE hopes to use this program to grow and retain the talent pool for early childhood education in the District. And with AidKit, they have a partner that can get direct payments safely into the hands of early childhood educators, helping to ensure that their compensation reflects the importance of their work.