If you ask any American they will likely tell you that early education is important for the development of our children; after all, they are the future. Unfortunately, while most agree that this is true, the most recent statistics show that funding for early education does not reflect the sentiment. Indeed, the most recent data indicates that early childhood educators simply are not getting paid enough to do the tough job of raising our future leaders.
“There are real struggles I face for earning poor wages,” explains Kristy Umfleet, who is an early childhood educator in North Carolina. “I cannot afford to put my 2-year-old in an early childhood program like the one I teach in. I can’t pay bills on time. I know others in the field who are lacking support and leave teaching altogether because it’s too emotionally and physically draining [without actually paying a living wage.”
But it looks like the buck does not stop there, so to speak. Apparently there is even less opportunity for child care workers. The median wage in this industry is $9.43, which is 10 percent lower than last year, according to a new report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, from the University of California-Berkeley.
Accordingly, University of Minnesota professor of child development Megan Gunner advises, “The amount of developmental time given to children is opening up a gap with the education of parents and their income. Younger parents who have to work two to three jobs don’t have the time to take their children to the zoo and libraries, and all the things many parents do to help children develop their brains.”
She goes on to say, “More and more families require child care and someone else to take care of the children during the day.”
Gunnar further advises, that if we really want to succeed in effective early childhood education, we need “a highly trained, highly educated workforce.”
But the issue is not necessarily a lack of teachers—or teachers who want to work in early childhood education—or child care workers. According to University of California-Berkeley Center for the Study of Early Child Care Employment director Marcy Whitebook, child care worker turnover is often as high as 30 percent. That means there are lots of people trained—and willing—to work in this field, but not many motivated to stay.
Limited opportunities for paid professional development and already low wages do, indeed, make it hard to retain the talent and experience necessary to make this a highly lucrative field. Thus, Whitebook concludes, “Without transforming policies that shape how we prepare, support, and pay early educators, the 21st-century goal of quality early learning opportunities for all children will remain elusive.”