Teachers in early childhood classrooms are arguably the most important determinant for achieving successful child outcomes. A plethora of research affirms this assertion. And while we know what works, we are challenged by low wages in the workforce which result in turnover and diminished classroom quality. Establishing healthy and stable relationships in the early childhood classroom are central to the social-emotional well-being of young children and their school readiness. So, knowing what we know, why aren’t we paying teachers more?
Unlike K-12 education, birth to five is a market-driven system. Early childhood programs charge what the market will bear (what the parents can afford to pay) and unfortunately, the profit margin is minimal, if at all. The largest expense in the budget is for salaries and benefits for staffing the program. The market is also suppressed by the rates of reimbursement that the state pays to care for school-readiness eligible children. Given these constraints, how do we move the needle on compensation?
Recognizing that there is a problem is paramount. We require teachers to know child development, understand pedagogy, scaffold learning, interact in meaningful ways, and prepare each child for success. And we ask this for an average hourly wage of approximately $10 — no small order when fast food industries offer higher wages and benefits. It is time that we put our collective minds together and develop solutions.
There are some strategies that have demonstrated their effectiveness, such as Child Care WAGE$® Florida (http://wages-fl.com). It’s not the solution for low wages, but it is a step in the right direction with a growing base of evidence to support increased investments. If we want our children to be successful and close the achievement gap for those most vulnerable, then it’s time to pay attention to their teachers and offer living wages commensurate with their education and expectations for the job. In my view, we have a moral imperative to do so and it is time to seize the opportunity.
Please raise the issue to your elected officials and work with your local ELC to adopt strategies to improve compensation to the early care and education workforce.
Dr. Phyllis Kalifeh
President & CEO