High-Quality Early Learning Settings Depend on a High-Quality Workforce: Low Compensation Undermines Quality

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education released a new report yesterday, High-Quality Early Learning Settings Depend on a High-Quality Workforce: Low Compensation Undermines Quality. The report describes the challenges that the early childhood workforce faces in providing high quality care and education for our youngest children and the challenges that compensation presents to expanding quality.

Median annual earnings for child care workers in all 50 states are below 150% of the poverty threshold. Low wages make it difficult for early childhood programs and higher education teacher preparation programs to attract, train, and retain highly qualified teachers and leaders. Significant increases in annual earnings are badly needed to improve program quality across the early childhood system in every state.

Another important challenge in the early childhood field is parity between similar positions in different settings within the workforce. The report features state profiles that highlight median workforce earnings for various positions within the early childhood field, including child care teachers, preschool teachers, and kindergarten and elementary school teachers. There is a clear discrepancy in earnings between these types of positions, which is of particular concern when research continues to show how important high-quality settings, relationships, and interactions are to the first five years of a child’s life. For example, teachers serving children ages birth-3 years make significantly lower hourly wages in comparison to those teaching children ages 3-5 years ($10.40/hr vs. $14.70/hr, respectively). In New York, kindergarten teachers make almost twice the annual earnings of preschool teachers ($60,120 vs. $31,100, respectively).

The Institute is working actively on this issue. Earlier this week our Executive Director, Sherry Cleary, attended the Clinton Global Initiative and facilitated the Early Learning Workforce group, where the participants agreed on the following goal:

Develop and implement a comprehensive and equitable financing model that provides voluntary, accessible, affordable, and high-quality early learning including an essential and substantial increase in wages and compensation for early childhood educators.

A substantial amount of support is needed to address the challenges of low compensation in the early childhood workforce. City and state initiatives around the country have shown that increased compensation can have significant and positive impacts on program quality. It is time for a national conversation and national action to implement those changes across the country.