Proposed DC Budget Cuts Would Adversely Impact Local Jewish Preschools

Several hundred people gathered at a rally in Washington, D.C., on April 5 to protest budget cuts that would negatively impact local preschools. Photo credit: Heather M. Ross

About 300 people of all ages came together on Friday morning, April 5, in Samuel Gompers Memorial Park in Washington, D.C., to protest the proposed elimination of the Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund.

The fund brings early childhood educators’ salaries in Washington, D.C., up to be on par with those of the District’s public school teachers — eliminating a pay disparity for early childhood educators.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser proposed eliminating the fund in her 2025 budget proposal, leading parents and early childhood education advocates to call on the mayor and D.C. Council to ensure that the proposed funding cuts are restored.

Local preschools, including Jewish preschools like Gan HaYeled, which is located in the heart of Washington, D.C., rely on this fund. If Bowser’s proposed budget passes, Gan HaYeled’s director, Noah Hichenberg, said the school’s budget will be rendered obsolete.

“It means we have to start from square one in terms of how to match tuition levels with fair teacher compensation, which is something that our preschool and every preschool struggled with forever, essentially,” Hichenberg said. “We’re looking at the unimaginable math of either drastically reducing teacher compensation to pre-COVID levels, which to be very frank was atrocious, or to elevate tuition to a level that will severely reduce the amount of families that can afford daycare within our community and throughout D.C.”

Rallygoers like Hichenberg woke up early for the 8 a.m. rally, but as one speaker pointed out, not as early as many educators. Many childcare providers have to be awake and ready before the rest of the world to receive children before parents go to work. On the day of the rally, Gan HaYeled opened late in order to encourage its community members, teachers and parents to attend the event.

“At a time when the Jewish community is having to spend so much extra money on security, having to absorb this kind of budgetary loss — it’s just not sustainable,” Guila Franklin Siegel, associate director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, said.

According to Franklin Siegel, a mother of three herself, preschools are more than just a place to provide early education — they’re fundamental to the development and well-being of families.

“Jewish preschools have been a cornerstone of our Jewish community for decades — they are essential community builders and they are essential to Jewish families being able to access Jewish life in the places that they are drawn to for professional reasons, and that’s especially true of Washington, D.C.,” Franklin Siegel said.

Without accessible preschool, parents will face tough decisions about where they live, work and how they build their families.

“I have a career that I love and I have children that I love, and in order for me to do my job well, I need to know that they are being cared for by dedicated professionals … I am very concerned that the loss of this funding means that we will lose our very best teachers to other pursuits, other careers, because they’ll have no choice,” said Jessica Jones, a D.C. mother of two.

Jones has twin daughters who attend Gan HaYeled at Adas Israel Congregation.

“I’m stunned and upset. The mayor made a commitment, the D.C. government made a commitment to families and educators, and it feels like a broken covenant — they’re breaking a covenant with us,” Jones said. “Parents were told to stay in the city and that relief and support would come for early childhood education at the expense of a tax increase. There was a tax increase — we understood that that was to fund this program, so it feels like a broken promise.”

Jones and her daughters attended the April 5 rally in hopes of raising awareness about the effect these budget cuts would have on Washington, D.C., families.

The rally was organized by Under 3 DC, a campaign dedicated to ensuring that local elected officials fund the Birth-to-Three For All DC law. The pay equity fund is a major component of this law, which has been in effect since 2018, and which helps keep child care affordable for Washington, D.C., families and aims to strengthen pre- and post-natal care for mothers.

On April 3, Under 3 DC released a statement condemning Bowser’s budget proposal, saying that it decimates child care.

According to The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., faces a budget shortfall over the next five years, and the decision to eliminate the fund from this year’s budget came from the administration after a requirement from the district’s chief financial officer to replenish one of the city’s reserve funds — a requirement Bowser says she strongly disagreed with.

“I hope the mayor’s office was listening. I know the city council members, they’re listening because many of our teachers and families, and I know this to be true, throughout daycares in the city have been petitioning their council member to ultimately reject the mayor’s proposal and insert the funds back into the 2025 budget,” Hichenberg said.

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