2021 General Assembly Session: Early Care and Education Priorities1 Comment
There is no question that 2020 has dramatically changed the early learning sector in Virginia. As of late November, one-third of the licensed child care capacity in the state were still closed. Most of our public preschool programs are offering virtual instruction for students. The impact of this year will have long-term implications for children as well as the child care sector.
We must recognize that our child care sector has only achieved stability at this level through additional federal resources. Nearly $170 million in response funds have been directed to child care and public preschool by the legislature and the Northam administration. This level of investment has been essential to keeping many providers open and allowing educators to offer care and instruction for the last nine months.
We know that, due to the economic impact of COVID-19 on the state, additional state funds may be hard to come by this year. Our talking points for the 2021 legislative session will focus on two themes:
- Improving compensation for early educators who have worked on the front lines.
- Building social-emotional supports into every aspect of our early learning systems.
Improving Compensation for Early Educator Frontline Heroes
A recent UVA study of the racial composition and compensation of the early childhood workforce found that two out of five early educators in child care centers reported household incomes under $25,000. 35 percent of early educators reported decreased earnings back in May due to COVID-19 closures. Before the pandemic, the median wage in child care was $10-14 an hour across the country. Educators in the private child care sector tend to usually be women of color—lead teachers in private programs were three times more likely to be Black than teachers in public preschool programs.
In order for young children to continue to have loving and prepared caregivers and for parents to find child care, we must ensure there is a workforce to support children and support the sector. For the many child care programs that have remained open, early educators have put themselves at-risk of exposure to love and nurture our babies. These heroes deserve to be compensated in line with their importance in our society and in children’s lives.
Incentive Payments: The Northam Administration has offered $1,500 incentive payments to some educators in PDG B-5 pilot communities. In FY20, about $3 mil distributed to 2,000 teachers as $1,500 recognition payments and another $3 mil is set to be distributed this year. A UVA study comparing those who received an incentive and those who did not showed that the recognition payment reduced teacher turnover in child care centers. We will support additional incentive payments for educators and efforts that seek to increase minimum wages in child care settings by offering additional financial support.
Building in Social-Emotional Supports into Every Aspect
We don’t yet know the full impact that the pandemic will have on young children, but we do know that the stressors of the pandemic can produce a long-term impact on quickly growing and developing young brains. For children of color, the economic and emotional impact of the pandemic is layered on top of racial and historical trauma for their families and their communities.
Recent Census Household Pulse data shows that more than one in five parents in Virginia reported feeling hopeless or depressed. We know that when parents struggle with their mental health their children are also likely to struggle. We have heard directly from early educators who feel the toll of being on the front lines and who worry about their own health and serving children who are facing months of trauma and disruption. We must do better to support children and their caregivers in response to the pandemic.
VDOE and state partners conducted a study on implementing mental health consultation models in child care this fall and found a few opportunities to start building up our systems. We believe that agency administrators and program leaders from Education, Social Services, Mental Health and Health agencies should review their professional development and program support plans to support services for social-emotional health into every program plan. This would include efforts such as additional social-emotional screening tools for children, implicit bias and equity training for educators, service linkages and workforce development efforts. To ensure a statewide system of support for children and caregivers there must be a multi-pronged and multi-faceted response with support from the legislature and administration creating a foundation of solid social-emotional wellness.
Long Term Big, Bold Vision for ECE
As we look to the long-term of the future of early education, we know we have to address a long standing problem— parents can’t afford to pay any more for child care and early educators can’t afford to earn any less. As we seek long-term solutions to rebuild this sector, we will keep these dual goals in mind to identify and support public investments and tools that can provide better pay for teachers and supports for the overall system to keep costs down for parents. We cannot go back to a system that requires parents to pay more than college tuition for their child care. And we cannot go back to a system that is based on paying low wages to teachers and caregivers. The recognition that child care is essential for our workforce should change the positioning and prominence of child care on any state and federal policy agenda in the future. It is critical to have your advocacy to continue to support it.
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