A Moment with Dr. Moore

December 12, 2023

An Agenda to Advance Change

“Child care is a textbook example of a broken market,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen in 2021 as the pandemic hit our field hard. “One reason is that when you pay for it, the price does not account for all the positive things that it confers on our society. An enormous body of economic literature finds that kids with access to quality child care end up in school longer and in higher-paying jobs afterward. When we underinvest in child care, we forego that; we give up a happier, healthier, more prosperous labor force in the future.”

That’s a serious risk we take unless we invest in our early childhood teachers. They play a crucial role in forming the labor force of the future, as Yellen pointed out. Our educators also play an essential role for today’s working parents, so the stakes are high now that pandemic-era federal funding for child care has come to an end. Child care providers are finding it hard to recruit and retain staff because educators are moving to higher-paying jobs in other fields, like retail, in the wake of COVID-related disruptions. And they’re not coming back to their jobs in our field unless those jobs change. Now it’s up to state and federal policymakers to address their needs.

There’s no solution to the child care crisis that does not include increasing pay. At the same time, we need to reimagine child care education and training programs to lend more support to this crucial but sorely undervalued workforce. Most college courses in early childhood education are out of sync with the students they serve, leading to declining enrollment. Many of the learners they would serve have to work while pursuing their education, and some already hold jobs in child care. Time is a constraint for many current and prospective child care professionals, so they need efficient, online programs, like the Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™, which they can fit into their busy schedules. And earning a CDA® can lead educators to gain more of the compensation and recognition they deserve, as the Council points out in its new policy agenda.

This is the first time the Council has raised an independent voice in the policy arena, and our agenda makes the following recommendations to advance the early childhood workforce that we serve. State and federal policies should increase access to credit-bearing, high-quality CDA training options for educators through workforce programs, including apprenticeships. Another step ahead would be to increase access to early care and education pathways for high school students by expanding CDA career and technical education programs, a way to provide new avenues for young folks entering our field. Lawmakers should also draw interest to the CDA by recognizing it in state-level regulations as the preferred entry-level credential for the early childhood profession.

And I’m glad to see that lawmakers have already begun to recognize the value of the CDA, based on its close to five decades training competent teachers for the classroom. In Delaware, the state has awarded a $31.6 million grant to the Early Childhood Innovation Center (ECIC) at Delaware State University, and the funding allows ECIC to provide the state’s early childhood professionals with technology, coaching, tuition assistance and access to flexible coursework as they work toward the CDA. Recently, North Carolina passed a law including the CDA in its quality rating and improvement system, and as of October, the Infant-Toddler CDA and Preschool CDA count toward filling the requirements for a star-rated license. Now lawmakers hope the new law will help to ease recruitment efforts for child care workers in North Carolina amid the staffing shortages that affect the field in states nationwide.

That’s also the hope in Maryland, where the Council is playing a direct role in increasing access to the CDA. In Maryland, the Council responded to a request for proposal that led it to partner with the state department of education to provide $1 million in funding to aid educators in earning or renewing their CDA. The funding assistance began by including the online assessment or renewal fee and publications, then recently came to include training. By earning their CDA, Maryland’s child care professionals are expanding their career options and gaining greater knowledge with which to serve young children across the state.

Rising educators in Massachusetts may also have more opportunities to earn their CDA, due to the efforts of State Rep. David LeBoeuf, who I met at a Hunt Institute conference last year. My talk on the CDA inspired him to introduce Bill H3755: An Act relative to rebuilding our early childhood workforce, and recently Council COO Andrew Davis joined him to testify in support of the bill at the Massachusetts State House. If passed, the bill will create apprenticeship opportunities that allow high school students and working educators to earn their CDA. The bill would also reduce costs for CDA candidates enrolled in public institutions of higher education, cover the cost of the CDA exam for other candidates and allow colleges to count the CDA for college credits. The  result would be a much-needed influx of educators into Massachusetts classrooms since the state’s latest survey data found that 35 percent of center-based child care programs are serving fewer children than their licensed capacity, which leaves about 10,000 slots empty due to shortfalls in staff.

There’s also a staffing shortage in Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms nationwide, where 19 percent of positions are vacant, leading to many empty classrooms. As a result, children in underserved communities are receiving even fewer of the services they need, and this grim situation has led Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Mike Braun (R-IN) to introduce the HEADWAY Act (Head Start Education and Development Workforce Advancement and Yield Act), bipartisan legislation that would allow Early Head Start classroom teachers to teach and earn their CDA at the same time.

Passage of the act would not simply provide Head Start children with more highly qualified teachers. It would also help in retaining Head Start staff since educators with CDAs tend to earn higher pay. And they deserve it, according to a recent notice of proposed rulemaking from the Office of Head Start. The proposed rule would set standards for staff compensation that require programs to promote competitive wages for teachers by August 2031. To be more precise, the proposed standards would require Head Start programs to pay their educators yearly wages that are on par with those of public-school preschool teachers—a good start toward a bigger goal.

All our early childhood teachers deserve more pay and recognition, according to the final pillar of the Council’s policy agenda. Moving ahead, we’re committed to keep putting a spotlight on their vital—but undervalued—work and pleading their case before public officials. In the coming year, we will advance change by supporting more government investments aimed at improving job quality and pay for our early childhood teachers nationwide. Without it, the child care sector will not make up for the serious shortfall in staff. So, policymakers must seize the moment to invest in these essential workers. We need to fix the broken child care market, and one of the ways we can succeed is to help more educators earn their CDAs.



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