Research Report

Measuring the Supply of Quality Child Care across the District of Columbia

A key question in child care policy is whether quality improvement is in tension with maintaining a diverse supply of care that meets working families’ needs. The District of Columbia provides an ideal context to study this question with its launch (in 2016) and full implementation (in 2018) of Capital Quality, a redesigned quality rating and improvement system (QRIS). Capital Quality brought new ways to measure program quality and a public-facing structure, with the goal of supporting families in making more informed decisions when deciding where to enroll their children.

This report tracks the supply, distribution, and composition of licensed child care in the District from 2016 to 2019. Findings suggest that quality improvement need not disrupt the supply nor capacity of available care. Specifically, in the District of Columbia we found the following:

  • The overall supply of licensed child care held steady and capacity increased from 2016 through 2019, as the new QRIS system rolled out. There were differences, however, in the number and capacity of facilities over time by care type, geography (ward), and age group.
  • The overall supply and capacity of facilities participating in the District’s QRIS increased slightly between 2016 and 2019. Facilities in some parts of the District were likelier to participate in QRIS than those in others.
  • Capital Quality shifted the distribution of quality designations. Whereas facilities often held the lowest or the highest rating possible in the previous QRIS, Capital Quality created a more even distribution of designations across its four tiers. For children receiving subsidies, facilities that served infants and toddlers, nontraditional-hour facilities, and centers, Capital Quality designations were more varied and lower, on average, than ratings under the previous system. But for child development homes, designations improved under Capital Quality.

This project will continue tracking these trends through 2023, as facilities with preliminary designations undergo additional observations and all participating facilities experience the ratings and improvement supports included in the District’s redesigned QRIS.