By Cindy Cisneros
AS WE PAUSE THIS LABOR Day to celebrate the nation’s workers, we should also think about those whose profession helps prepare the citizens and workforce of tomorrow: early childhood teachers who work with children every day.
A child’s first five years are the most critical for neurological development, with their brains forming more than one million neural connections per second. This is the time when the foundation is built for future success – brain wiring for social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. Genetics and experiences both play a role in a child’s early development. And that is why access to early childhood education programs and to quality early educators matters so much.
Having high-quality programs hinges on having a high-quality workforce. But the field suffers from low wages, which leads to high turnover. Poor pay also leaves little incentive for early childhood teachers to return to college and earn degrees or other certifications to deepen their competencies and knowledge about how best to foster early learning. Today, the median hourly wage among those working in child care settings amounts to $10.72 per hour – about $22,000 per year. Indeed, preschool teachers earn a little more at about $13.94 per hour – about $29,000 per year. Despite the salary bump, these teachers still struggle to support their own families.
Many teachers working with children from birth to age five are based in private child care centers. These businesses operate on a shoe-string budget with parent fees comprising most of their operating revenue. It is simply impossible to substantially increase teacher wages without passing on those fees to parents (who already struggle to afford the program costs). We know that high-quality care costs more to provide (to have educated teachers, to have low child-to-staff ratios, to have materials and supplies that promote creativity and learning). But, our current system is not funded in a manner to support high-quality settings.