Two recent announcements portray both progress and challenges when it comes to providing high-quality child care and early learning for our nation’s children.
First, the good news. Congress recently passed, and President Obama signed into law, the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014, which reauthorized the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) for the first time since 1996. There are two purposes of CCDF: (1) to promote families’ economic self-sufficiency by making child care more affordable, and (2) to foster healthy child development and school success by improving the overall quality of early learning and afterschool programs. The new law makes statutory changes in the following areas:
- New Health and Safety Requirements such as requiring states to do background checks for all child care staff including those not directly caring for children, and conducting better inspection of facilities including unannounced inspections;
- Transparent Consumer and Provider Education Information, including the funding of a new national website to look up providers by zip code and requiring states to make provider-specific health and safety information easily accessible, such as information on monitoring and inspections, substantiated instances of child abuse and neglect, and annual number of child deaths and serious injuries;
- Family-Friendly Eligibility Processes such as reducing disruptions in care for children served by the CCDF program and increasing access to services for homeless families; and
- Quality Improvement Activities such as requiring more training for CCDF providers, and gradually increasing the amount of CCDF dollars states are required to set aside for quality improvement from 4 percent to 9 percent over a five-year period.
Shannon Rudisill, former Director of the Office of Child Care and new Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development within HHS, rightly described the new law as “a watershed moment in the history of the child care program” that “will have far-reaching implications for the over 1.4 million children served by the CCDF program as well as the children cared for alongside them.”
Still, challenges remain. While we have made gains and will hopefully continue to make gains in families’ access to high-quality early care and education for their children as signaled by the CCDBG, we have unfortunately made little progress in the past 25 years in adequately compensating those who care for and educate young children in this country. Marcy Whitebook of the University of California, Berkeley, Deborah Phillips of Georgetown University, and Carollee Howes of the University of California, Los Angeles released a new report which pulls together national data from multiple sources to compare today’s early childhood workforce with the workforce 25 years ago, described in the 1989 National Child Care Staffing Study. Among the striking findings from this new study are the following:
- Twenty-five years later, childcare workers continue to be at the bottom of the wage scale of the civilian workforce, earning less than adults who care for animals and barely more than fast food cooks, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- There are major disparities in wages across program type, age of child, and by state. For example, teachers in state-sponsored pre-kindergarten earned a median wage of $16.00 per hour in 2012, compared to $11.90 per hour for Head Start teachers, and $10.00 per hour in other early care and education programs, according to the National Survey of Early Care and Education.
- 38 percent of childcare workers between 2007 and 2011had family incomes below 200 percent poverty.
- Almost half (46 percent) of all childcare workers participated in at least one of four public support programs between 2007 and 2011 to support themselves and their own families, with participation rates especially high among women of child-bearing age, among both single and married childcare workers with at least one child under five years old, and among childcare workers who are black, Latino and multi-race.
- Although many have increased their education levels over the years, early childhood teachers with a bachelor’s degree or higher still earn thousands of dollars less annually than other civilian workers with comparable educational backgrounds.
- Parents’ fees for child care have increased 90 percent since 1990, but childcare workers’ wages have increased only 1 percent between 1997 and 2013, suggesting an “irrational market” for child care in this country and “entrenched unlivable wages” for many in the early childhood workforce.
Where to go from here? These documents highlight important issues and opportunities for supporting early childhood development, working families, and the early childhood workforce in the years ahead. We should build upon the investments and improvements outlined in the new CCDF reauthorization and redouble our efforts to address the inequalities in compensation of the early childhood workforce. We need to acknowledge that equitable teacher compensation is key to high-quality early care and education.
Tamara Halle, co-director, early childhood research