Cross-posted from the Children’s Alliance blog.
We all want Washington’s kids to get the experiences they need for lifelong success. But in order for kids to thrive, we must do more to support our state’s dedicated early childhood professionals.
That’s a key observation in the new early learning data brief of KIDS COUNT in Washington, the partnership between Children’s Alliance and the Washington State Budget & Policy Center.
As the brief notes, a key factor in a young child’s development is their relationship with the adults in their lives: both those who comprise their family network, and the network of caregivers they rely on when the adult members of their families are at work or in school.
Early childhood professionals fulfill a vital service to families, kids, and the economy. But with the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in the closure of a significant share of early learning programs across Washington state, it is more important than ever for our elected officials to work to support this critical workforce. Here are five ways they can do that:
Increase Access to Affordable Child Care
The Washington’s Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) subsidy program allows families with low incomes to access affordable, quality child care while they work or participate in school and work-related activities.
Policymakers must increase subsidy rates to incentivize more providers to accept Working Connections and allow participating parents a greater choice of child care options. This could further racial equity by giving all families—including families of color who face inequitable barriers to jobs with good pay—greater access to high-quality child care options.
Give Early Childhood Professionals Resources Needed to Succeed
Wages and workforce supports for the early education sector help determine whether dedicated early childhood professionals remain in the profession long-term. Because early childhood educators earn some the lowest wages of any profession nationwide, experts believe that providers regularly leave the field in search of higher pay. Relationships are the cornerstone of learning. Paying early childhood educators a fair wage allows them to remain in the workforce and maintain critical bonds with the children and families they serve.
Create Diverse Career Pathways
Policymakers took several bipartisan steps to stabilize and protect the early childhood workforce in the 2020 legislative session. But further steps are needed, especially to support immigrant child care providers and providers of color: two groups of providers more often trained in community-based settings to offer culturally relevant care. Investing in affordable, multilingual training in the communities where providers live and work would allow a greater diversity of educators to demonstrate their skills and knowledge and meet the education requirements for licensing.
Invest in High-Quality Preschool
Existing funding levels for Washington’s state preschool program, ECEAP, remain woefully inadequate and require urgent investment from state lawmakers. ECEAP has remained underfunded since its inception and cuts made during the Great Recession by lawmakers have put ECEAP programs in an even more precarious position as we head into another economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The limited investment in pre-k leaves ECEAP providers operating on razor-thin margins, discourages teacher retention, and restricts access to high-quality pre-k to only a handful of qualifying families.
Boost Federal Investments
With the state facing a three-year budget deficit currently estimated to be nearly $9 billion, Washington needs federal investment and partnership to avoid draconian cuts to the very services critical to to an inclusive statewide recovery. Our Congressional leaders must fight for a $50 billion investment in the early learning sector. Without this help, the very people families and businesses depend upon to allow parents to work will no longer be there. There is no economic recovery without child care.
Read the KIDS COUNT early learning data brief.
About KIDS COUNT in WASHINGTON
KIDS COUNT in Washington is a partnership of the Children’s Alliance and the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, pursuing measurable improvements in child outcomes through equitable public policy measures. The two organizations offer policymakers and the public the knowledge they need to remove the barriers kids face to brighter, freer, more equal futures. For more information, visit www.kidscountwa.org.