Written by Valora Washington, Ph.D.
Ohio is known for many things. The birthplace of eight U.S. presidents. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Corn and buckeye trees. An incredible football legacy, both in professional and college leagues.
When I think of this state, I think of a legacy that is in the making with a program called POWER Ohio. This program, whose acronym stands for Powering Optimal Wages and Encouraging Retention, pays individuals to complete their higher education courses and degrees in early childhood education while they are working in these settings. This is important for several reasons, the most pressing of which is that we need to keep passionate educators in our field.
How do we do that? By helping them complete advanced training so they can earn a fair wage.
There are more than a half-million children under the age of 6 potentially in need of child care in Ohio. Investing in early childhood education and care should be a top priority for all who care about children, and a qualified early childhood educator — one who can create a dynamic learning environment that engages children and encourages their growth and exploration — is at the center of a high-quality early learning experience. This is something that parents and caregivers across the United States want and their children deserve.
However, this field often has been shoved to the sideline of education conversations, treated more as a child care safety net than a solid foundation for well-adjusted, capable young kids.
According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, on average ECE educators in the state of Ohio earn a wage of just $9.86 per hour, which puts them toward the bottom of the wage-earning percentile and leads to high employee turnover.
I can tell you that these talented professionals do much more than tie shoes and wipe noses. They help children develop skills that will serve them across their life span. They model how to resolve conflicts, how to manage emotions and ultimately build a platform for academic success.
More than 60% of Ohio’s 53,000 ECE educators have a degree or credential beyond a high school diploma. According to Groundwork Ohio, early educators in the state earn an average annual income of $20,508; however, more than half of them rely on some form of public assistance. POWER Ohio is helping to bridge the gap so that the education and training needed to get to that next pay grade is possible.
“I am so excited to get my first POWER Ohio check,” said Donisha Gore. “It will help pay for my associate degree in Early Childhood Education at Columbus State University. It will help me move forward.”
Operated by a public-private partnership between the Ohio Child Care Resource and Referral Association and the Child Care Resource and Referral network, POWER Ohio provides payments and wage supplements for recipients to attain an initial child development associate credential or an associate degree in a related field — from child development to family studies to physical education and more.
“POWER Ohio has helped me in so many ways,” said Mavis Aidoo. “It is providing motivation so I can obtain my CDA hours and receive my CDA credential. It has also given me the hope to complete my associate degree in early child care education.”
Ohio (and other states) can further invest in the early childhood education workforce to improve outcomes for at-risk children in several ways, including by increasing compensation and improving benefit standards, and by bolstering scholarship programs such as TEACH Early Childhood.
I can’t imagine a greater legacy for our children than ensuring that their first teachers, like Donisha, Mavis and so many more, are trained to succeed and are compensated in a way that allows them to do the work they love.
Valora Washington, Ph.D., is CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition, which works to ensure that all professional early childhood educators and caregivers meet the developmental, emotional and educational needs of our nation’s youngest children.