Heading Toward a Crisis: Early Childhood Teacher Wages and Quality Improvement About to Clash

More than one dozen co-sponsors joined the CT Early Childhood Alliance on November 18 to bring awareness to unlivable wages for child care workers.

More than one dozen co-sponsors joined the CT Early Childhood Alliance on November 18 to bring awareness to unlivable wages for child care workers. Photo: CT Early Childhood Alliance.

Would you leave a job you loved, if you weren’t making ends meet for your family?

Most people would probably lean toward moving on. And that’s a fear that many in the early childhood field have. The wage differential between the typical pre-k teacher and the starting salary for a public school teacher with a BA is about $15,000.

In Connecticut, early childhood teachers face a teacher qualification mandate. By July 1, 2015, 50% of teachers in state-funded and School Readiness programs must hold a bachelor’s degree and 50% must hold an associate’s degree. The number rises to 100% by 2020. To read more about the requirements, visit http://www.ct.gov/oec/lib/oec/earlycare/workforce/gp_15-04_educator_requirements_for_state_funded_programs.pdf

“We’re heading toward a crisis,” said Karen Rainville, Executive Director of the CT Association for the Education of Young Children (CAEYC). “We’ll do okay by July 1, 2015 [in meeting the mark for teacher qualification], but what the data doesn’t tell you, by August 1, 2015, it’s a different story.” Rainville says those bachelor degreed teachers will move to public school openings that will pay them higher salaries than what they could make in early childhood programs.

In preparing her remarks for the November 18 press conference on child care wages hosted by the CT Early Childhood Alliance and more than one dozen co-sponsors, Rainville said she spoke to a child care director who told her last year, nine teachers earned their bachelor degrees in early childhood. None of them are still working at her center. One, Rainville said, is actually bartending because she can make more doing that than in her chosen field.

“Low wages equal high turnover and lower quality,” said Rainville.

“We do have a crisis,” agreed Senator Beth Bye, the co-chair of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee. “We’ve passed a law [regarding qualifications], but without compensation, teachers are getting degrees and moving on. I think policymakers have been in a race to increase access. We need to shift to a walk to create a system and think about high-quality slots, where teachers earn a fair wage. Stop the race simply for slots. Let the Office of Early Childhood braid the funding streams. Twenty-five years ago, we didn’t have the brain science [information] that we have now. High-quality matters.”

Rep. Michelle Cook, a mother of four and a former child care employee, acknowledges the difficulty of working for low wages. Nationally, 46% of child care workers, compared to 25% of the total workforce, are enrolled in public support programs in order to make ends meet, including Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

“You can’t raise four children on $8, $9, $10 an hour,” Cook said. “We’re requiring people to go back to school. Let’s not start talking now – let’s get serious about the conversation we’ve been having for 25 years. Let the rubber hit the road.”

The mention of 25 years ties into the 25th anniversary of the National Child Care Staffing Study. In 1989, the early childhood workforce faced unlivable wages and difficult challenges and today, the same rings true. On November 18, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at University of California – Berkeley report, “Worthy Work, STILL Unlivable Wages: The Early Childhood Workforce 25 Years After the National Staffing Study.”

“The public understands the importance of investing in early childhood,” said Merrill Gay, Executive Director of the CT Early Childhood Alliance. “Seventy-percent of voters want more investment. But we’ve got to do it well.”

The full report by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at University of California-Berkeley can be found here – http://www.irle.berkeley.edu/cscce/2014/report-worthy-work-still-unlivable-wages/

Media coverage

CT NewsJunkie

Hartford Courant

CT Radio Network 1

CT Radio Network 2

WICC 600AM Monthly Radio Segment

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