Research tells us that the most important component of high-quality early care and education is the quality and consistency of the caregiver or teacher. Unfortunately, the early childhood field does not offer the wages or professional support necessary to effectively attract and retain the very best early educators.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics Effect
One factor contributing to these limitations is the fact that many early care and education professions are classified by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as service professions, rather than education professions. This matters because data collected by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is used by individuals, businesses, community organizations, state and federal agencies, and policymakers to make important decisions about workforce development, including the compensation levels necessary to recruit and retain workers within a given industry.
That’s why the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children and our initiatives, Let’s Grow Kids and Vermont Birth to Five, are calling on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to reconsider its recent rejection of a proposal that would have reclassified early childhood care and education professionals as education occupations, like elementary school professionals.
Early childhood professionals are educators. Their understanding of early learning and development allows them to provide young children with activities that promote healthy cognitive, social and emotional development in safe and nurturing environments, which lays the foundation for success in school, relationships and life. But as long as early childhood care and education professions are listed as service industry occupations, it will be difficult to compensate them for skills and knowledge that more closely aligns with their elementary education counterparts than with employees in the service industry.
Vermont’s New Child Care Licensing Regulations
Vermont’s early childhood care and education providers play a critical role in our state’s education and child development system. This is recognized in the recent development of Vermont’s new child care licensing regulations. The state established high education and professional development criteria for its early childhood care and education workforce. This is entirely appropriate because in Vermont, as in the rest of the country, child care workers, preschool teachers, teacher assistants and early childhood program administrators are helping to build the brains of children and prepare them for kindergarten and beyond.
Even though early childhood professionals have educational, professional development and training requirements similar to those of their counterparts in public schools, Vermont child care workers earn an average annual salary of less than $25,000, often without benefits. Think about that. The people who spend their days providing Vermont’s youngest children with safe, nurturing learning experiences are struggling to cover their basic expenses and to support their own families. This is unacceptable.
Vermont Early Childhood Workforce “Stalled”
A state-by-state review of workforce policies and practices in the early childhood field, called the “Early Childhood Workforce Index 2016,” rated Vermont as “stalled out” when it comes to compensation strategies. The review was done by researchers at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley. Researchers found that those working in the early care and education field are among the lowest-paid employees in the nation. The report calls for a transformation of early childhood jobs and early childhood policies and infrastructure. Absent this change, the report warns, “We will continue to witness educators leaving the field in search of employment that offers a livable wage, rewards their educational attainment, and provides the respect that is their due. And the next generation of young women and men will continue to eschew jobs teaching our youngest children.”
In Vermont, we’re losing dedicated and passionate early childhood professionals at an alarming rate. From May 2010 to May 2016, the number of regulated child care programs in Vermont decreased by 12.5%. The Vermont Department of Labor has projected that between 2012 and 2022, almost 70% of child care worker positions that become available in Vermont will be due to turnover, placing child care in the top 10 occupations in the state with the highest number of openings, on average, per year.
Vermont Has a Child Care Challenge
While more than 70% of children under age six have all available parents in the workforce, a recent report by Let’s Grow Kids found that almost half of Vermont infants and toddlers likely to need care don’t have access to any regulated child care programs and almost 80% don’t have access to high-quality programs.
High-quality child care is of utmost importance in preparing our future workforce, and high-quality care depends on highly-qualified professionals. In order to achieve the recognition early childhood professionals need, we must acknowledge their important roles.
The Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children has a mission to ensure every Vermont child has access to high-quality and affordable early care and education by 2025. In order to achieve this goal, we need to support our early childhood workforce. We also need to make high-quality care more affordable to parents and providers.
Vermont’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care—which includes business representatives, policymakers, parents and child care providers—will issue a report in late November that will recommend financing strategies to support high-quality, affordable child care in Vermont. It will be up to Vermont’s next governor and legislative body to act on the Commission’s recommendations and to implement policies aimed at solving Vermont’s child care challenge.
Vermont Can Lead the Nation
The Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children believes our state can lead the nation on this critical issue. I encourage Vermonters to join our efforts to make high-quality, affordable child care a reality for every Vermont child who needs it.
Join the campaign at www.letsgrowkids.org to get involved.
Many of you have heard me talk about the brain science and the latest research that tells us how crucial the first five years of a child’s life are. So why when we talk about education, do we tend to think about the public education system, K through 12?
It tells me that we still have much work to do to educate Vermonters that education does indeed begin at birth and that those professionals teaching our youngest children are doing very important work —which brings me to the reason for this blog post.
Recognizing the Work of Our Children’s First Teachers
I’m excited to announce nominations are open for the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children second Early Educator of the Year Award. Through this award, we are proud to recognize the unsung heroes—the childcare professionals—who work so hard for our children. After all, besides parents, these individuals are a child’s first teacher. This award honors individuals who have truly gone above and beyond to positively impact the lives of children and has been a valuable resource for families.
The top two finalists will be honored at the October 2016 VAEYC Conference, where the top finalist will be announced as the Early Educator of the Year and will receive $5,000 and all expenses paid to attend the VAEYC Conference as well as one national conference. The second finalist will receive a $1,000 award and all expenses paid to attend the VAEYC Conference.
Early Educator of the Year Eligibility
In the second year of this award, we are accepting nominations for an outstanding center- or school-based childcare professional who has demonstrated a commitment to quality early childhood education. The award alternates between honoring home-based and center-based programs each year.
To be eligible for this year’s award, a center- or school based childcare professional must have at least four stars in the Vermont STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS). Nominees must also have been providing care for at least three years, and must currently have infants and toddlers enrolled in their program.
Award Nomination and Review Process
Individuals may self-nominate or can be nominated by others, though family members may not submit a nomination. The nomination period is now open but will close on May 1, 2016. Those nominated will be notified and must complete and submit an application to the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children by May 31, 2016 to be considered for the award.
An award selection committee comprised of leaders in early education and child development will review all award applications and choose two finalists. Committee members are:
- Laurel Bongiorno (Champlain College);
- Mitch Golub (Vermont Achievement Center);
- Bethany Hale (Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children);
- Reeva Murphy (Child Development Division);
- Melissa Riegel-Garrett (Agency of Education); and
- A representative from Building Bright Futures.
Nominate an Early Educator Today!
We hope that you—parents, folks from the early childhood community and others—will take time to consider the childcare professionals you know. Is there someone that stands out from the rest and truly exemplifies excellence in the teaching of young children? Nominate someone today!
In Vermont we have seen education costs rise, while our student population has decreased by 23,000 students since 1997. The steepest increase in costs has been for special education. Outside of teacher salaries and benefits, special education costs represent a lion’s share of our school budgets.
Vermont’s Agency of Education reports that while the share of federal funding for special education stagnated between fiscal years 2001 and 2014, Vermont’s share of costs have more than doubled from $137,789,654 to $271,185,794.
Nationally, we know it costs about twice as much to educate a student who requires special education services versus a student who does not. I believe we can reduce these costs while improving outcomes for all children.
Start earlier: Learning begins at birth
Am I suggesting we cut special education? Absolutely not! Special education programs serve our most vulnerable children. But we do have an opportunity to make these services far more effective.
By identifying at-risk children earlier and starting services earlier, we have the greatest opportunity to improve outcomes for these children and the potential to reduce costs over the long-term.
Here’s why: From birth to age five, a child’s brain is developing most rapidly, making connections and building a foundation for skills that will serve them for a lifetime. If we miss these most receptive stages of development, a child may find it more difficult to learn particular skills later. The greatest return on any investment comes in these early years when the brain is most ready to learn.
Here are a few Vermont stats to put this in perspective:
- Only 26% of Vermont children age 0 to 3 receive all three recommended developmental screenings by age three. We can change that.
- 20,000 young children spend a portion of their day outside their home in the care of someone else. And, only 24.1% of Vermont’s regulated care and education programs are designated as high-quality programs (a 4- or 5-level rating in STARS or national accreditation). We must build quality into the early care and education system.
- In 2013-14, less than half (49%) of Vermont children were deemed ready for kindergarten in all areas of health and development. High-quality early care and education programs will ensure that more of our children are ready to learn.
A recent North Carolina study suggests that state-supported high-quality early childhood programs can reduce special education costs and reduce the number of special ed placements, providing great cost savings to school districts. In the study, an investment of $1,100 per child (made during the early years) reduced third grade students’ odds of needing special education placement by 39%.
While early intervention will not eliminate the need for special education entirely, studies have shown that starting these services earlier can make a difference. Such services can lessen the need for more intensive, and more costly, services later, or, in some cases, can eliminate the need for special services altogether.
Gaining a greater return on our educational investment
We can tackle the quality and cost challenges by reframing how we define public education. By providing high-quality programs and services starting at birth, during the most crucial years of development, we can ensure that all children receive the support they need to develop a solid foundation for their future cognitive, social and emotional development.
Strong communities and a healthy economy are based on the well-being and health of our children. After all, if we want our children to be productive members of society as adults, we must invest in them while they’re young.
The beautiful foliage in Killington provided an excellent backdrop for the presentation of Vermont’s first Early Educator of the Year Award last week. Holding the award ceremony during the VAEYC Conference was the obvious choice for recognizing the important work being done in Vermont’s early childhood community. After all, this is where the early childhood community comes together to share ideas and experiences, learn from one another, and celebrate their work.
In an earlier post, I mentioned why the Permanent Fund created its Early Educator of the Year Award. But it’s worth repeating: Besides parents, early educators are the first teachers our children have and their work lays an important foundation at the most crucial time of development in our children’s lives.
Early educators are working in what I believe is Vermont’s most important profession. By honoring those who are doing great work, we are demonstrating to all Vermonters what high quality early care and learning looks like.
In this post, we give you a look at the two providers (and their programs) that we honored with this year’s award: Award finalist Elsa Bosma (Puddle Jumpers) and award winner Gerri Barrows (Discovery Hill Family Child Care and Preschool).