Public Good Statement


In economics, a public good refers to a commodity or service that is provided without profit to all members of a society, either by the government or a private individual or organization.

The pandemic of 2020 has shined a bright light on the inequities that have long existed in this country. Most pointedly the disparities in access to health care and educational opportunities that lead to economic prosperity were laid bare. As we begin to defeat the corona virus and return to work, the critical role that the availability of quality child care will play in our country’s return to work cannot be overstated. As such early education and care must be recognized as a public good.

Although, historically the importance of early learning during child care has been overlooked, recently its importance has been heralded, particularly here in the District of Columbia. Similar to traditional public schools and public charter schools, Early Care and Education must be viewed as a part of the public good. After the defeat of the corona virus, the return to a full functioning economy presents an opportunity to reassess, rethink and reimagine early care and education’s contribution to the overall economic well-being of the national economy. Since the Massachusetts Bay Colony, General School Act of 1647, it has been widely agreed and accepted that public education is a part of the public good.

It contributes to the overall cohesion and coherence of a community’s moral fiber by enabling all of its children to reach their full potential and thus enabling them to become informed and engaged citizens as well as productive contributors to the economic vitality of the community. The enactment of the School Act was in response to the existing hodgepodge of institutional arrangements in support of education, very similar to the District of Columbia’s (the “District”) fragmented system. Currently in the District early education and care programs and services are being provided by Community Based Organizations (“CBO”), traditional public schools and public charter schools – all of which fall under the auspices of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (“OSSE”).

One example of the District’s “hodgepodge” approach to early education and care surfaced during the pandemic. CBOs as well as public and charter schools all must meet the same eligibility requirements in order to qualify for Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Funding (D.C. Code § 38-271.06), and Pre-K enhancement and expansion program assistance grants (D.C. Code § 38-272.04), and are compensated on the same per student basis. According to D.C. Code § 38-271.01(1c): “Community-based organization” or “CBO” means a Head Start or early childhood education program operated by a nonprofit entity, faith-based organization, or other entity that participates in federally funded early childhood programs.”  Yet, OSSE designates only public schools and public charter schools as Local Education Agencies (“LEA”), while excluding CBO’s from this designation. This lack of LEA designation is currently being used by OSSE to justify its refusal to permit CBOs from receiving reimbursement for “virtual learning” during the pandemic, while permitting public schools and public charter schools to be reimbursed for virtual learning. Such arbitrary designations confers no benefit and only serves to disadvantage those who chose to enroll their children with CBOs as opposed to public or charter schools.

There are numerous other examples of how the District’s “hodgepodge” approach to regulating early education and care programs and services. Despite the statutory framework currently in place, these arbitrary decisions result in great disparities relating to school finance, facilities, facility maintenance, teaching, learning, health, safety, teacher compensation and most importantly child outcomes.

Much has changed since 1647, including women making up over 60% of the workforce. There have been advances in cognitive science and brain development as it relates to children ages birth to five. Economic models project that for every dollar invested in early education and care there is a fourteen dollar return. Now, it is universally recognized that early education and care is the foundation for the educational continuum that leads to success in school and in life.

Public education has long been recognized as the gateway to opportunity for children from a variety of racial/ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Early advocates of public education contended that only through public funding could we provide the consistent support needed to educate all children and bring a more standard approach to curriculum, length of school year, teacher qualifications and teacher compensation.

The council of the District of Columbia’s passage of the pre-k expansion and enhancement act of 2008, sought to address the disparities that existed in School-based and community based pre-k programs serving 3 and 4 year olds. Specifically, it sought to bring about parity for teacher qualifications and teacher compensation by providing a revenue stream that employed the uniform student funding formula as the source for pay parity. In other words, it recognized pre-k as a public good regardless of organizational auspices and provided a marker for equal pay for equal work and equal qualifications. In view of the fact that early education and care serve as the initial building blocks of a child’s educational and economic trajectory, now is the time to recognize it as a critical part of the public good and use the same public dollars that support K-12 education to support Pre-K and B3 education regardless of setting.

Carrie Thornhill,
DC Early Learning Collaborative

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