As with K-12 education, early childhood education supports families’ ability to work, but it also does much more. Studies consistently show that young children who receive a high-quality early education develop an expanded vocabulary, have better language skills, and perform better on school readiness assessments in math and science. The long-term benefits for children living in underserved communities are even greater, resulting in increased high school graduation rates, college enrollment and income. Even when a child experiences stress during their formative years, a high-quality, positive environment with competent, supportive adults can mitigate its lasting effects.
This science is why every child – not just those whose parents can afford it – should have equitable access to a knowledgeable, skilled, caring, and fairly compensated early educator who intentionally creates developmental plans and experiences. rich. It’s also why DC has created a quality standard for educators to learn skills and competencies by earning degrees and credentials as part of an overall effort to reverse a history of undersupport, undervaluation and underfunding of early childhood education and educators. This story goes back centuries when enslaved black women were forced to care for the children of plantation owners while leaving their own children uncared for. After slavery, with few other opportunities, many black women continued to work as domestic helpers – underpaid, overworked and excluded even in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.
Despite their essential status, as well as growing recognition of the necessary skills, knowledge and commitment, child care providers have remained low-wage workers to this day. Early educators earn an average of about $15 per hour nationally. Until recently, early DC educators earned an average of about $20, well below the $34 living wage and public school teacher pay levels. In 2016, the DC Council supported the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) decision to increase credentialing requirements for early childhood educators. A court has agreed that DC can enact credential requirements that all primary teachers in early learning centers and homes have at least an associate’s degree, assistant teachers have a developmental associate’s certificate. the child and center directors have a bachelor’s degree.
The good news is that early educators and principals are already well on their way to meeting these requirements. According to OSSE, as of August, 78% of early childhood education center directors were now meeting their new education requirements. Primary and assistant educators are at 40% and 34%, respectively, and 50% for home educators.
DC must continue to invest time and funds to ensure that pathways to advanced degrees and education are easily and equitably available to educators in all settings. Now, for example, early childhood educators working in OSSE-accredited early childhood education programs from birth to age 5 are eligible to receive full scholarships at several local universities and community development programs. workforce. Increasing credentials—along with the supports needed to obtain them—does not necessarily mean decreasing supply. However, they must result in an increase in remuneration. That’s why, with overwhelming public support, in 2021, the DC Council unanimously passed the Pay Equity Fund for Early Childhood Educators to increase compensation for those who work in centers and licensed preschool learning homes.
The lack of childcare provision stems from the low remuneration of the workforce. We cannot solve this problem without recognizing and supporting young educators as the highly qualified and competent professionals that they are – who should have the opportunity to work in a field with standards, titles and remuneration as in other professional fields. We certainly cannot solve this problem by continuing to pit parents and educators against each other; both want the best for children, and neither can afford to subsidize the cost of quality childcare and early learning alone.
Delivering quality has costs, but the benefits are public, and the investments should be too. DC and its residents recognize this and are taking action to support the field to make early childhood education a sustainable career choice and provide quality options for children and families. Qualified educators help shape children who are compassionate critical thinkers, problem solvers, environmental stewards, and civic-minded. After centuries of undervaluing the profession and science of early childhood education, we stand at a crossroads with the opportunity to lay the foundations for a stronger future.