Current state policies are shortchanging early childhood educators, report says

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Manisha Sharma/Staff

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A report released Thursday by the UC Berkeley Center for the Study of Child Care Employment concluded that all 50 states and Washington D.C. are failing to adequately support the roughly 2 million early education professionals in America.

The Early Childhood Workforce Index — a comprehensive report of early childhood employment conditions and policies across the country — is part of the State of the Early Childhood Workforce Initiative, a project launched by the center to better the lives of early child care workers. The study examined state policies regarding qualifications and compensation for educators, and it also evaluated work environments, resources available for child care services and a database to track the early education workforce.

“We know children require incredibly skilled and well-supported teachers,” said Lea Austin, a co-author of the report. “The ways in which we designated qualification levels in California and across the country, doesn’t reflect that.”

Austin said that specifically in California, early education qualifications are “inconsistent and applied unevenly” because California is not one of the many states that require preschool teachers to have a bachelor’s degree.

According to the report, 46 percent of all child care workers in the United States — and 47 percent of those in California — partake in public assistance programs, such as Section 8 housing or food stamps. This rate is nearly double that of other workers who use these subsidized programs across the country.

“That participation (in subsidy programs) is an indicator of their economic vulnerability and insecurity,” Austin said, adding that because child care wages are so low, these public income supports act as a necessary financial “safety net” for early educators.

According to Austin, the study does not reflect the recent California 2016-17 Budget that sets aside funds to help all state early educators earn minimum wage.

Two years ago, the California Legislature allocated $50 million of Proposition 98 — that requires a certain amount of the state budget be spent on K-14 education —  for the Quality Rating and Improvement System Block Grant, which is aimed to increase the number of low-income children in quality state preschools.

“The California Department of Education is strongly committed to ensuring quality instruction and increased access to preschool programs,” said California Department of Education spokesperson Robert Oakes in an email.

Despite this increased funding, Austin said the nature of the country’s current early education system prevents most families from affording quality preschool education. She added that the nation needs to start to consider early child care education as a public good provided to all children.

“We need to move to a system that is equitable and effective for the children, their families and their educators,” Austin said.

 

Contact Brenna Smith at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @bsmitty1853.

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