New Federal Funds Can Lead to Long Term Gains if Used to Build Early Educator Apprenticeships

For decades, our country has faced a national child care crisis, which has only become more urgent in the wake of the pandemic. The consequences are far-reaching: families are grappling with a lack of affordable, high-quality care as they return to the workplace; early child care providers are struggling to hire, train, and retain employees; and infants and toddlers are missing out on the consistent, meaningful experiences that support healthy brain development and future learning.

We urge policymakers to seize this opportunity to invest in sustainable, high-quality child care for our nation’s youngest learners through the creation of apprenticeship programs for the early child care workforce. Using one-time funding included in federal relief, such as the American Rescue Plan Act, states can establish the infrastructure needed to create and sustain apprenticeships that ultimately result in better outcomes for children, a pathway toward pay increases for the workforce, and stronger social and economic well-being for our nation writ large.

Why Apprenticeships?

Supporting learning for young children is complex work that requires skilled caregivers. Apprenticeship programs, which also take the form of “residencies,” are a win-win for both children and those who care for them. They enable early childhood educators to deepen their skills and knowledge on the job while earning professional credentials and degrees. With a focus on child development, mentor teachers and fieldwork supervisors help caregivers deepen their understanding of how children learn during the first three years of life, including the importance of responsive care and the benefits of age-appropriate learning environments that support healthy brain development of infants and toddlers.

What’s the Overall Impact?

Apprenticeships help create a career path for early childhood educators and stabilize the industry, which currently has a startling 50 percent turnover rate. Through apprenticeships, caregivers build their skills and work while earning credentials, such as an associate or bachelor’s degree. In turn, they help lay the groundwork for negotiating fair compensation in a field that currently pays poverty wages.

Apprenticeship programs also support equity for both children and adults. Building a system that nurtures the healthy development of all young children helps set every child up for future success, both in school and in life. Research shows that investments in early childhood lead to future success in school, increased earnings, improved health, stronger families, and reduced crime rates. And by addressing the persistent issue of training and compensation for a workforce made up primarily of women — 40 percent of whom are people of color — apprenticeship programs help promote equity in the workforce.

Finally, as more people return to working in person and demand for child care increases even further, apprenticeships help create stable, high-quality child care for working families. This is especially important for women, who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and forced to leave the workforce at record rates.

Are they Affordable?

Apprenticeship programs are surprisingly cost-effective with myriad benefits for both the workforce and the families and children in their care. Early care educators can earn while they learn and, by using existing scholarship funding, the cost of coursework for apprentices can be brought down to zero.

The remaining expense is the cost of training and compensating mentors and fieldwork supervisors. While it may be tempting to eliminate this cost, mentors, fieldwork supervisors, or coaches are key to translating child development concepts into practice in the classroom.

To support the development of apprenticeship programs, Bank Street College released a new tool to demonstrate how states and localities can leverage one-time planning funds from federal relief plans to establish apprenticeships that pay for themselves over time.

Apprenticeships are foundational to solving our nation’s child care crisis and supporting the public good. Now is the time to invest in building equitable, sustainable, and quality education for early care providers to support the health of our children, families, communities, and nation.

To learn more, explore our new tool Designing Early Childhood Educator Residency/Apprenticeship Programs: A Guide to Estimating Costs and new cost calculator, as well as our recent brief Realizing the Promise of Early Educator Apprenticeships.

By Emily Sharrock, Associate Vice President, Bank Street Education Center, and Courtney Parkerson, Consultant, Bank Street Education Center

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