Local Governments Respond to the Urgency of Addressing Early Educator Compensation
Research shows that access to high-quality child care is linked to a range of short- and long-term benefits for working families, the broader community, and children in their most critical years of early development. Meanwhile, staffing challenges are driving current child care shortages and providers are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain highly qualified staff due to low wages.
Last year, Biden’s American Families Plan outlined the need for urgent reform and offered several potential solutions, such as calling for a $15 minimum wage for the infant/toddler workforce and pay parity commensurate with similarly qualified K-12 educators. Unfortunately, lack of federal investment has left American families with limited access to high-quality care for children ages birth to age 3.
In the absence of swift action at the federal level, local governments must bridge the gap in parity compensation to better support the early child care workforce and, in turn, the children and families they serve. Several communities across the political spectrum have found ways to move the needle and finance compensation reform, even in the absence of federal support. Here is a closer look at four examples:
- In San Francisco, voters passed a proposition to increase a commercial rent tax, which is projected to raise $120 million, half of which will be dedicated to increasing compensation of city-funded early childhood educators based upon educators’ role and education level. Compensation amounts will also be determined based on the percentage of subsidy-eligible children served, with educators in settings with 50 percent or more subsidy-eligible children receiving the highest compensation increase. The program will start officially in July 2023 but will allow “ramp up” time until October, giving providers the opportunity to adjust to implementation.
- Wisconsin leveraged the interests and needs of its business community to establish its Partner Up program, in which businesses agree to contribute 25 percent or more toward the cost of child care for their employees. Over time, businesses will pay for a larger percentage of the cost of care, enabling Wisconsin child care providers to afford increases in educator compensation. The state plans to sustain and increase this investment over time, especially as businesses recognize its positive impact on employee retention.
- In Washington, DC, a philanthropy-funded advocacy campaign to help engage and organize providers around increasing compensation led to increased income taxes for its wealthiest residents, which is projected to raise $55 million dedicated to early educator compensation. With this funding, DC will begin by paying stipends of $10,000 for assistant teachers and $14,000 for teachers as leaders in DC build the infrastructure required to allow for teachers to see their increased compensation directly in their paychecks. A parity compensation scale is also under development, with more details forthcoming in 2023.
- Maine’s legislature voted to extend bonuses funded by the American Rescue Plan by choosing to invest state funds in continued monthly bonus pay for early care educators. The bonuses were previously set to expire in Fall 2022. The extended wage supplements will be tied to years of experience and higher education attained, creating incentives for retention and advanced professional development. The vote was bipartisan and was supported by a range of stakeholder groups, including parents, businesses, and economic development groups.
To help realize these solutions, community engagement such as focus groups and stakeholder meetings played an important and ongoing role from program inception to program rollout. In many cases, the support of philanthropic organizations helped to fund and organize more intensive engagement.
Now is the time for grassroots action to support much-needed early child care reform at the local level. As the majority of voters support increasing federal funding for child care, more states and local governments should take a closer look at how they too can make progress on early educator compensation in a variety of political contexts with creativity and commitment.
To learn more about innovative compensation initiatives from around the country, watch the recent webinar Bank Street’s Learning Starts At Birth team co-hosted with the Hunt Institute.
By Annie Schaeffing, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Learning Starts At Birth, Bank Street Education Center