The summer months in Florida seem to last forever with longer days, balmy weather, and more time spent outside. Like many organizations, the summer also brings the start of a new fiscal year for the Forum. I look forward to new beginnings for Florida’s early childhood workforce and the families they serve through additional funding that was approved during this year’s legislative session for the following Forum programs:
- $10 million for the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program which helps to establish a well-qualified, fairly-compensated and stable workforce for Florida’s children. This $5.5 million increase from last year’s session allows T.E.A.C.H. to offer new scholarship models and more opportunities for child care practitioners to obtain a Bachelor degree or Associate degree in Early Childhood Education, a National Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential, a Florida Staff Credential, a Director Credential, or renewals for each credential.
- $2.45 million for the Help Me Grow Florida Program which promotes early identification of developmental, behavioral or educational concerns, and then links children and families to community-based services and supports at no cost.
While we are pleased with the progress this past legislative session, a recent study by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment found that 52 percent of Florida’s child care/early learning practitioners participated in one or more public income support programs. This is cause for concern. Moreover, the average wage for a kindergarten teacher in Florida in 2015 was $21.95 per hour, but the mean wage was $9.53 for child care professionals and $11.65 for preschool teachers. That’s less than the wages of tree trimmers, pest-control workers, hairdressers, and janitors, according to a report from the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.
We know that the experiences that occur during the first five years of a child’s life influence the trajectory for later success or failure in school and in life. Quality early learning experiences begin with competent teachers who are fairly compensated. If early learning professionals are expected to prepare children for school, then we must invest in them and provide competitive wages equivalent to their school-aged counterparts and increased professional development and training opportunities to promote positive outcomes for young children. I encourage you to remain steadfast and continue to educate our business leaders and policy makers that investments in the early learning workforce today ensure a stable economy in the years to come. It makes good business sense, and most importantly, it’s needed now… because kids can’t wait.
Phyllis Kalifeh, Ed.D.