By Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development
Today, we posted the second Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA) for the Early Head Start (EHS) Expansion and Early Head Start-Child Care (EHS/CC) Partnerships. It comes on the heels of a visit yesterday to the Georgetown, Delaware EHS-CC partnership where Governor Markell showcased the program, read to children and talked to teachers and parents about what the program has meant to them. He noted that Delaware has increased the number of low-income children enrolled in high quality early care and education programs from just 5% to over 70%. It is an amazing increase and one the state should be very proud of.
Just as importantly, Kathy Moore, Director of the Parents and Children Together at Tech (PACTT) recapped the progress made as a result of the EHS-CC partnership. The program is located at the Sussex Tech High School and serves as a training site for high school students interested in early childhood.
She described the how children are directly impacted by the program, but also noted that all children benefit from the partnership because of the training all the teachers have received, the new equipment and supplies, the new playground and the overall boost to morale for everyone involved. She emphasized the significant contribution of the tiered reimbursements made available through the Child Care and Development Funds.
Over the years, many of you have heard me talk about how I try to envision a child – any child – when I get in my car each morning. It reminds me of why I go to work. As the result of yesterday, I have many new faces to think about, but one in particular – a child who, because of a concerned teacher at the PACTT center, was referred for medical evaluation and as a result, found to have a brain tumor and now getting treatment. As a result of this visit, I may modify my daily routine and add the face of an early childhood teacher to my morning routine. They are the unsung heroes of the teaching profession.
One of the good news stories about the EHS-CC partnerships is that the teachers at the PACTT program got a raise. The not so good news is that it wasn’t nearly enough for skills needed and the importance of the work they do. As evidenced by the child identified at the PACCT program, the importance of having highly qualified staff cannot be overstated, but to train them and keep them is going to require a significant investment of public funds. Last week, we issued a report “High Quality Early Learning Settings Depend on a High Quality Workforce: Low Compensation Undermines Quality.” The report describes the pay and compensation of our early childhood teachers. The wages of child care teachers in particular is among the lowest and makes many eligible for public assistance. In all states, the median annual earnings for a child care worker are below 150% of poverty. They are even lower for an infant/toddler teacher.
So where does all this leave us? STUCK, is the easy response! In order to raise the wages of the early childhood workforce, we need a financing strategy that does not include increasing what parents have to pay. This Administration’s vision of a financing strategy for the birth to four workforce can be found in Senator Casey’s and Congressman Crowley’s bills (S. 2539, Casey and H.R. 4524, Crowley). These are important pieces of legislation and deserve serious debate. They seek substantial increases in mandatory funding. I want to personally encourage you to read them. Whether you agree with these bills or not, they are a conversation starter – a conversation that is long overdue. So, until we have resolved the financing issues, the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships provide one opportunity to support higher wages in the infant/toddler workforce. I encourage everyone to seriously consider applying.