Race, Poverty, and Family Economic Security
On any given night in the District, more than 1,400 children and their families are in a shelter or on the street. Far more families are doubled up. During the 2018-19 school year, at least 7,700 students experienced homelessness. In addition, according to the 2019 Youth Count, approximately 1,300 unaccompanied youth, up to age 24, were homeless. DC residents experiencing homelessness are almost entirely Black and brown. The District’s system for serving families and young people in need of permanent housing is fragmented and challenging to navigate. How would you reform DC government services for children and youth experiencing homelessness to ensure the system effectively enables them to obtain the services they need?
We are a community, not a collection of residents. Let’s begin with a statement that affirms the dignity of all and that government’s primary responsibility is the safety of all. Homelessness is an American problem born out of structural inequalities and disregard for the less fortunate; if any place ought to have compassionate policies that incorporate the humanity and value of all life, it should be DC. We must agree on these matters if any policy congruence is going to happen. Ideally, we can task the DC Commission on Human Rights to promptly address the needs of residents based on the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Public dollars – rainy day fund perhaps – ought to be used to house, cloth and feed the homeless as needed.
No one deserves to live in poverty, especially children and youth, yet far too many in the District face crushing circumstances that have lifelong consequences. In 2019, 37% of Black children and 17% of Latinx children lived in poverty, compared to just 2% of white children. For children and youth to succeed and meet their full potential, we must close the racial gaps and eradicate poverty. What is your definition of racial equity? How do you think the District should address the significant disparities in poverty rates of Black and brown children compared with white children?
I believe in educational equity with every fiber of my being. But, what does that even mean? Equality and Equity are not the same even though our students wholeheartedly deserve both each and every day at the minimum because every single student has intrinsic value. Indeed, budgetary resources must be targeted to the areas of most need; this means not every school will get the same amount. Equity does not mean financial parity. By equity, I mean each and every student and every teacher and staff member has the highest probability of upward mobility through the learning resources and professional development tools provided on a regular basis.
Everyone who lives and works in the District has been affected by the pandemic, but not in the same way. Because of systemic racism, the impact has been particularly brutal on Black and brown residents who have suffered the greatest consequences in areas such as health, housing, job security and more. Unless we want to see these divides deepen, we need to take action. Earlier this year, DC Action for Children and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute conducted a poll of registered DC voters and found that 83 percent support raising local taxes on the highest earning residents to maintain vital public programs and services for families. Specifically, 78 percent of District voters support raising taxes on residents earning taxable income of $350,000 or more and 72 percent $250,000 or more, respectively. Would you support raising new taxes on DC’s highest income earning residents to maintain vital public services and meet children, youth and family needs?
What changes would you make to our tax system to ensure it is more equitable?
We at least need to add a clause that dictates the taxpayer funds raised through tax collection are applied to the areas of most need as defined by district-determined publicly shared metrics of evaluation.
Since the pandemic, the importance of child care has only become more evident. Families will need access to safe, high-quality, and affordable care so they can return to work. Unfortunately, this kind of child care, costing an average of $23,000 per year, remains out of reach for most families, Early childhood educators, who are primarily Black and brown women, play a critical role in the learning and healthy development of infants and toddlers. Unfortunately, they earn about $30,000 per year, which is half of what their peers in public education earn, and they receive very few benefits. In 2018, the Council passed the Birth to Three for All Act, historic legislation that—if fully funded and implemented—will provide access to health and mental health care, early child development support, and high-quality, affordable child care to families with young children. The Act also raises wages for early childhood educators. To fully fund Birth to Three within 10 years, we will need to allocate nearly $300 million dollars. How would you plan to raise the revenue needed to fund the Birth to Three law?
I would cautiously support a restaurant tax similar to that which passed in nearby Richmond, Virginia also in 2018. However, I would prefer that an appropriate budget be allocated from Council to SBOE to oversee and execute the law. Preferably, funds for this effort are funded through resources not at the expense of resident taxpayers.
In addition to potential learning loss, one of the negative consequences of virtual learning is the disparities that surface between schools. Some teachers have the resources they need to be successful in the virtual learning environment while others do not. These disparities directly affect students’ ability to learn. Out-of-school time programs can play an important role in addressing inequality and closing opportunity gaps by providing social and emotional learning, internships, mentorship, and tutors in communities and schools. However, school systems and out-of-school time providers do not effectively coordinate in order to best serve students. What steps would you take to ensure schools collaborate with out-of-school-time programs and keep them in place to serve students?
Select and City-approved agencies can be given a small grant to incentivize their participation in a pipeline program with shared standards and expectations. Both services can be monitored by SBOE.
Many District residents are enrolled in public health insurance, but they don't go to the doctor. What policies would you advance to ensure every family has a medical home in their community where they can access preventive and acute health care?
I would consider proposing legislation that recommends a medical care facility within a 1/2 mile radius of schools accept as patients every household member with a currently enrolled DCPS student; perhaps they could be automatically enrolled when their household member is enrolled in school.
Many Black and brown immigrant parents have access to healthcare through the DC Healthcare Alliance. However, many report losing coverage due to the requirement to recertify every six months. Losing coverage in the middle of a pandemic can be a matter of life of death. Would you support a 12-month certification for the DC Healthcare Alliance, to align with Medicaid and DC Healthy Families, to ensure more consistent coverage?
Many states across the country, including Maryland, have recently created Children’s Cabinets to coordinate children and youth work across departments and to break down internal silos. The cabinets have created strategic goals to improve child well-being across issue areas. What are your thoughts about steps that DC can take to improve service coordination among departments and improve outcomes for children and youth?
I’m not sure if more bureaucratic administration is the solution, but it may be. In general, we can restructure the reporting directional arrows on the organizational chart to create more transparency, public oversight, and accountability.
We believe that young people play a vital role in our democracy. Recent actions, organizing and protests, led by young people have been critical in advancing political and social change. Many youth leaders are too young to vote, but there is a growing Vote 16 movement. Do you support lowering the voting age to 16?
DC Action for Children believes that in order for our advocacy work to be most effective, it must be centered around the voices of children, youth, and families. This work must go further than just testimonies during DC Council hearings and meetings. In addition to lowering the voting age to 16, what are innovative ways you would involve and elevate the voices of children, youth, and families?
I don’t support lowering the voting age to 16; especially not without ensuring through mandating public education that we are appropriately educating students by that time to understand the American political system; I do support mandating civic education, and if so and successful, that might create the conditions for lowering the age to 16 at a later date. I do think certain boards and commissions can elect youth representatives that actually get a vote on key matters.