The Workforce Crisis is Real: The Solution is Better Compensation

The Child Care Workforce Crisis is Real: The Solution is Better Compensation

By Michele Rivest, Senior Campaign Director, NC Early Education Coalition
April 28, 2021

A new bill in North Carolina, S570 – the Hold Harmless Star Ratings bill, has turned legislative attention to the early childhood workforce crisis as child care programs struggle to reopen and expand services while they face the daunting task of finding and hiring qualified teachers. Across the state, whether it’s an urban area like Mecklenburg County or a rural area like Nash County, child care programs are sharing heartbreaking stories about not being able to find qualified staff and reluctantly turning families away because they can’t open new classrooms as families return to work.

We want you to know that we hear you. The workforce crisis is real and worse than it’s ever been.

We know that North Carolina faces an unprecedented child care workforce shortage. It’s been building for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the situation worse.

However, S570 is not the solution. We do agree that waiving the requirement for programs to go through the star-rating assessment at this time is absolutely needed, and no child care program should be penalized right now for not maintaining their star-rating because of the workforce crisis. But lowing the education requirements won’t actually solve the early childhood workforce crisis.

We have a workforce crisis because child care teachers, overwhelmingly women and primarily women of color, are paid poverty-level wages and few benefits for the critically important work they do. Child care programs in 73 counties pay teachers $12.00 an hour or less, and 20 of these counties pay between $8.00 and $10.00 per hour.

Child care programs operate on razor thin margins already and don’t have the financial resources to pay teachers better, so they just can’t compete with Amazon, Walmart and other retailers that pay $15.00 per hour. Even McDonalds has steadily increased wages above the minimum wage to retain employees. It’s no wonder that child care teachers who are struggling to make their own family budgets work are looking for better paying jobs elsewhere.

Unlike other industries, child care programs can’t just raise the cost of their product and pass the higher costs on to consumers in order to increase wages. Parents can’t afford to pay more for child care either, which is already higher than the cost of public college tuition. The child care financing system is broken.

Our position continues to be that it’s time for the federal and state government to fund child care like the public good that it is.

Child care is essential infrastructure and should be funded the way we fund roads and bridges and public schools. Until we get there, we can still take urgently-needed steps to address the workforce crisis and support child care teachers, programs, communities, and families. Child care teachers need bonuses immediately, now. This important measure can serve as a bridge to a salary supplement program through statewide expansion of the Child Care WAGE$ program. And we also need to go further – like fast-tracking education requirements, building apprenticeship and mentoring programs, offering hiring and retention bonuses, building an early childhood teaching fellows program that waives tuition costs, increasing public subsidy market rates, and providing upfront funding for outfitting new classrooms, to name a few. Strategies like this will rebuild the early childhood workforce pipeline and show early educators that they can have a future teaching our state’s young children.

Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we have the opportunity to do this! North Carolina will receive $1.3 billion in federal child care relief funding to support these and other much-needed child care support initiatives. Now is the time for policymakers – the Governor, state legislators, and our state early childhood administrators – to address this crisis through compensation and workforce strategies that really will make a difference. Only then will we attract the early childhood teachers our youngest children and their families need and deserve.

We can’t ignore the decades of brain science research and longitudinal studies that repeatedly show that early childhood education requires a specialized workforce. Teachers need the necessary education, skills, and experience to deliver on the promise of early childhood education to support young children’s healthy development, school readiness, and future success in life.

The bottom line is this: early educators deserve worthy wages for the worthy work they do. It’s time we invest in the early childhood workforce in bold new ways and build a better child care system for the future.

Sign up now to join us in the Worthy Wages Campaign, and register for a Worthy Wages Celebration and Day of Action on May 5th. Sign a petition today calling on policymakers to invest in the early childhood workforce, and get ready to share your own stories and tell your legislators to support young children and their early educators in North Carolina. We need you to stand up for the early childhood workforce now!