BUILDing Strong Foundations

Financing is the Bottom Line: Creating Better Early Childhood Jobs, Supporting Families, Assuring Quality

6/3/2015 12:00:00 AM
Posted by: Meghan

Joan Lombardi, Ph.D.
Director, Early Opportunities LLC

Science tells us that the adults in children lives, and the relationships the adults form with children, are the cornerstone of healthy and successful child development. While everyone talks about this science, reality does not fit the rhetoric: teachers are underpaid, parents can’t afford child care, and quality suffers.

Released this week, the fourth chapter of the E-Book, Rising to the Challenge: Building Effective Systems for Young Children and Families, is entitled Trends and Innovations in Early Childhood Education Workforce Development. Author Randi B. Wolfe, Ph.D. documents some of the promising practices in seven of the 20 states that received Early Learning Challenge grants. These include expanding the capacity of professional development systems; creating stronger career paths; and coaching supports and incentives to make professional development more accessible and affordable. While we should celebrate these advances, the chapter concludes with this important point: “Compensation, including workforce support, remains the elephant in the room.”

Though the professional opportunities and expectations placed on early childhood teachers have increased, compensation has not kept up, and recruitment and retention of qualified staff remains a core issue undermining quality. The other side of this same coin is that parents, particularly those with low incomes, are spending a high percentage of that income on child care.

In the landmark study Worthy Work, STILL Unlivable Wages: The Early Childhood Workforce 25 Years after the National Staffing Study, the facts speak for themselves: the mean hourly wage of child care workers in 2013 was $10.33, with preschool teachers faring a bit better at a mean hourly wage of $15.11. Yet, preschool teachers earned 60 percent of the hourly wage of kindergarten teachers (Whitebook, Phillips and Howes, 2014).

The bottom line is that the early childhood system is seriously under-funded. The math does not add up. We need new financing mechanisms to infuse a “third party payment” so teachers and caregivers can earn a decent salary, and parents can better access affordable quality care. We can’t deliver on the promise if we are stuck in a system largely financed by parent fees and low wages.

Let’s recommit ourselves to speaking out about the financing issue and its impact on the adults in children’s lives and on the children themselves. We can start by stepping up efforts to:

  1. Build public awareness about the important contribution made by the people who make up the early childhood workforce and the economic realities they face because they chose this important job. At the same time, we need to develop strategies to address the financial toll that child care costs take on family budgets, particularly families with young children.
  2. Document the impact of any new innovative financing mechanism. State pre-k funding and Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships are important steps forward; they need to be expanded.
  3. Advocate for increased federal, state and local resources and call for special “early childhood financing” efforts to explore new options.
  4. Support the voices of teachers and parents as they work together, along with other champions, to address the financing crisis that threatens quality.

A few weeks ago I had the honor of visiting several early childhood programs, in centers and home settings. I watched the teachers with wonder, thinking how important their everyday work is for young children, families and for the country. We need to better support these teachers in the vital work they perform. It is time for early childhood financing to become a national priority. What can each of us do to make this happen?

 


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