New Policy Brief Calls for Equitable Compensation for the Early Childhood Workforce

While two-thirds of the country’s youngest children spend their day in the care of someone other than a parent, less than 10 percent of child care arrangements offer high-quality care. This is due to a gross underinvestment of public resources, which results in half of our nation’s early childhood workforce relying on public benefits and 86 percent earning less than $15 an hour.

When educators are stressed due to their economic status or working conditions, it is difficult to deliver on the meaningful interactions that are the hallmark of quality care for young children. In order to remedy this injustice, early childhood educators need to be compensated for their complex work, as well as have access to supports that help them consistently deepen their practice.  

To help advance early educator compensation at the local, state, and federal levels, the Birth-to-Three Policy Initiative at Bank Street Education Center has released a new policy brief titled, Equitable Compensation for the Child Care Workforce: Within Reach and Worth the Investment. Calling for bold, national reform, the brief outlines concrete short- and long-term strategies for better supporting the early childhood workforce and, in turn, the children they serve. 

“For our youngest children, rich and meaningful learning happens through interactions with responsive caregivers who know how to nurture a strong early foundation for social-emotional and cognitive growth. Our brief provides a roadmap for investing in this type of care, which starts with proper support and compensation for our early childhood workforce,” said Emily Sharrock, Associate Vice President, Strategy & New Program Design, Bank Street Education Center.

The publication outlines several potential mechanisms for redesigning our nation’s broken early education system in ways that center equity and quality for all. The authors highlight reforms to ensure that child care programs can meet their basic operating costs while also improving teacher compensation. Recommendations include reforming reimbursement rates in child care subsidies by increasing rates to cover the true cost of care and funding for enrollment, not attendance.  The authors also recommend dedicating public funding to a mix of both contracted funding and vouchers, which covers day-to-day operating costs while preserving parent choice. “Imagine a future where communities value and invest in learning experiences for children from birth through age five in the same way they do for their K-12 schools,” states Courtney Parkerson, Bank Street consultant and co-author of the report.

The brief also includes testimonies from leaders in the field, who were convened in October 2020 to discuss the most promising paths forward. Albert Wat of the Alliance for Early Success emphasized, “We cannot keep expecting early childhood educators, especially people of color, to sacrifice their well-being to provide this common good.” In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the brief comes at a time when public support for child care is growing and there is a sense of urgency around rebuilding a sector that has too often failed children, families, and educators.

According to the Birth-to-Three team, compensation is not only central to quality improvement—it’s essential to building an equity-centered system that values the lives and work of early childhood educators. Brandy Lawrence, Senior Director, Birth-to-Three Policy, Communications, and Partnerships, Bank Street Education Center, explains, “We have a responsibility to seize this moment to advocate and plan for an investment in high-quality care. Compensation remains one of the most intractable issues in early childhood education today, despite wide acknowledgement of this injustice.”

Read the full brief