Why Childcare Teachers get the crumbs
By Anthony Felix, Director of Staffing at Catalyst Family Inc.
Due to a lack of teachers, nearly one million student spots remain unfilled across the nation as the childcare crisis continues to grow amidst rising inflation and challenging work conditions. While the national K-12 shortage dominates headlines, it’s childcare teachers who are facing ever increasing obstacles to enter and remain in a field that garners little attention from policy makers.
With almost a decade of experience recruiting in the child development field myself, I’ve reached out to others in the industry only to discover they too have been finding it exceptionally difficult to hire qualified teaching staff. Per a recent Wells Fargo economic report, employment in day care services sits 12.4% below pre-pandemic levels compared to 1.9% for all other occupations, substantiating what one preschool organization described as “worse than any point during the Great Recession.”.
The answer to what exactly is causing the teacher shortage is multifaceted. While obstacles such as low wages and high costs to enter the field have existed for decades, the pandemic presented a new challenge as it placed childcare workers in high-risk environments, unable to transition to remote learning like their K-12 counterparts. With so many of their peers stepping away from the classroom due to health concerns, teachers have spent the last two years shouldering the extra workload.
So how do we solve the crisis? While we can’t wave a magic wand and fix everything overnight, I do think some viable options exist that could dramatically improve the childcare workforce, starting with expanding state and federal funding. In 2019, Federal childcare spending was less than 4% than that of the Department of Defense spending. With inflation reaching nearly 8%, families are facing growing childcare costs, leaving many to wonder where that money goes if not to teachers. Unfortunately for most childcare programs, increasing tuition still isn’t enough to cover the rising cost of rent, utilities, and routine maintenance. If Federal childcare spending were to increase by just 2 percent, not only would childcare programs be able to afford higher teacher salaries, families would see tuition rate increases slow dramatically.
Beyond policy makers making a sudden shift in funding, lowering the barrier to entering the field that disproportionately impacts minorities would be a significant leap forward. The first step is to provide tuition reimbursement for all early childhood education courses and materials, as books alone for one class can exceed $300. The second step is to eliminate the high expense of teacher permits (credentials required for childcare workers) which can cost anywhere between $250 and $300 to obtain and must be renewed every 5 years. By eliminating what amounts to several thousands of dollars in debt before ever stepping foot in a classroom, we make a career in early childhood education viable for thousands. Finally, creating a childcare teacher residency program where educators can both work and develop their skills in an actual classroom would not only lead to improved program quality, it removes the difficult choice of having to decide between a career in teaching they love versus having to look at another industry to make ends meet.
With incremental change, we can solve the teacher shortage, and nearly half a million families will be able to enroll their children in quality childcare which has historically shown to boost labor force participation and the economy overall. Now more than ever teachers need our unrelenting support, just as they’ve been giving their unwavering support to our families and communities throughout the pandemic