States Take Action: District of Columbia

District of Columbia

In Washington, D.C., 80 percent of 3-year-olds and 94 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in the city’s pre-K programs. This includes the 1,145 3-year-olds and 1,582 4-year-olds who are enrolled in federally funded Head Start programs, but does not include the 956 children under the age of 3 who are enrolled in federally funded Early Head Start programs D.C. is also looking to guarantee access to pre-K for students who live in-bounds for high-poverty schools under its latest proposal to overhaul school boundaries. The D.C. Public Pre-Kindergarten program seeks to provide high-quality, universal pre-K education across the city and serves students in schools that are run through community-based organizations, D.C. Public Schools and public charter schools. D.C. spends an annual $175,096,000 on its pre-K programs.  According to estimates, an average of 1,000 families and about 1,300 children are also served by the city’s child care services. The annual cost of center-based infant care in D.C. costs $21,948 on average. 

  • What the mayor is saying: Mayor Vincent Gray in his State of the District address proposed that the fiscal year 2015 budget add resources to strengthen early childhood education programs, stating, “We must grow the supply of high-quality early learning opportunities for children from birth to age 3 so that more children – especially those from low-income families – can develop and learn and be prepared for the transition to pre-K. With additional investment, we will raise the bar on quality for our infant and toddler programs. To ensure the health, learning, and development of these very young children, we will be the first state in the nation to require all subsidized child-care providers to meet the rigorous Early Head Start standards. And we will provide resources to help them succeed.” Mayor Gray also highlighted in his speech that the District’s programs “lead the nation … over the past several years the District has done an excellent job of getting our three-and four-year-olds into pre-K programs … We have been cited as a model for the rest of the nation by child advocates like Marian Wright Edelman and even President Obama.”
  • What advocates are saying: In a February 2014 blog, The Washington Post quotes Elaine Weiss, the national coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education (a project of the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute), who looked at the Jubilee JumpStart Center in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Northwest Washington as an exemplary model for improving the achievement gap between poor and better-off students. Weiss hails the District’s high-quality pre-kindergarten programs and shares that “no state has done better, and most are far behind.”
  • Public support for early childhood education: This spring the District of Columbia was highlighted in NIEER’s annual report as a leader in pre-K access and funding among state-funded pre-K programs. Further demonstrating the District’s success was an opinion blog in The Washington Post by Natalie Wexler, a member of the board of the D.C. Scholars Public Charter School, who also applauded the District for “[leading] the country in giving its residents universal access to preschool” but noted it must do more to ensure it is high quality.