As we prepare to celebrate Labor Day, I think about our under-appreciated early childhood workforce and everything they have been doing for our nation’s children. Recently I heard a child care provider say, “We’re already not valued because this is a profession run by women, and we are not taken seriously. This is society’s work. This is America’s work right?”
As early childhood educators prepare for a new program year, many are doing so without the appropriate compensation for their skilled, valuable, and often under-appreciated work. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reshape our society, the early childhood workforce is not only essential to ensure children are receiving high-quality care and education during their most formable years, but is also vital to the nation’s economic viability. Despite this important role, the early childhood workforce (disproportionately made up of women of color) often lack sufficient benefits and struggle to find affordable child care for their own children.
The American Rescue Plan Visit disclaimer page Act (ARP) is providing urgently needed resources to support the early childhood sector during the pandemic and recovery. It includes a $1 billion investment in Head Start and $39 billion for child care, including $24 billion for a new child care stabilization fund that provides grants directly to providers through states, territories, and tribal nations. The ARP also permanently increased the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) mandatory and matching appropriations by $633 million, representing the first increase in CCDF mandatory and matching appropriations since 2006. In combination, the ARP funds can be used to recruit and retain staff, provide professional development opportunities, and cover wage and benefits increases for the child care workforce.
While we acknowledge that the workforce faces challenges that cannot be remedied with a single investment, the ARP funds can be used to lay the foundation for a more stable, equitable, and higher quality early childhood system in the longer-term.
We must build on this momentum.
President Biden’s proposed American Families Plan Visit disclaimer page Act(AFP) provides a long-term path forward to support the early childhood field as we build back better. AFP includes major investments in child care and preschool for children birth to five and a proposed $450 billion in early childhood investments over the next ten years. Not only would this funding increase access to high-quality child care and preschool for children from birth to age five, it would also increase wages for all early childhood educators, regardless of setting and age group. This means educators in Head Start, preschool, and child care classrooms would all earn at least $15 per hour, and those with similar qualifications as kindergarten teachers would earn comparable wages and benefits.
In addition, this investment would ensure child care workers receive job-embedded coaching and professional development, along with additional training opportunities. The plan would also extend key tax credits included in the ARP that benefit the early childhood workforce, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit, which families started receiving monthly in July.
The AFP wage boost for the historically underpaid early childhood workforce will improve equitable pay for a sector over-represented by women of Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/ Alaska Native descent. Together these investments will advance equity, equip the early childhood workforce to provide for their own families, and change the narrative about early childhood educators by taking action to recognize their value.