The Case for Increasing Pay for Early Childhood Educators

A person counts a stack of one dollar bills | | early childhood education center east boulder county lafayette louisville school holistic whole person

Take into consideration that educators shape every other profession.

Let that sink in for a minute. Maybe read it again: Educators shape every single profession.

Every profession or career path that adults choose to follow has been inspired, taught, and encouraged by educators. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, psychologists, trade workers, merchandisers, fashion designers, hospitality workers, actors, flight attendants, software developers, teachers, project managers, grocery store workers, baristas, artists of all types, travel agents, entrepreneurs; the list goes on and on and on.

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Somewhere along the line at least one educator in a child’s formal and informal schooling will spark and inspire the continued curiosity to learn more and engage in individual passions for all of the children they encounter. Those children grow to be adults who, in turn, nourish and nurture the world.

Educators inspire children to find what motivates them, both intrinsically and extrinsically. Educators inspire children to give back to their community as they become adults and start making decisions for themselves. Everything educators invest in relationships with children in some way comes back to the community, locally, generally, and globally. Perhaps based on the impact potential, educators should be paid the most of all professions!

Early Childhood Education as a Critical and Valuable Profession

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Early Childhood Educators are among the least well-paid professionals in our country, despite the lifetime impact on young children.

Okay, but really, what is the case for paying educators more? From a professional perspective, the education industry continues to increase its expectations of educator professionalism, including the quality of care that is provided to millions of children daily, the consistency of inclusive language used throughout each day, as well as the awareness and implementation of research-based best practices. In turn, so too do the expectations of educators to meet and exceed required state standards in the classroom. 

The impact that educators have is based on the quality of their relationships with children, and educators are some of the most creative people on the planet in connecting with children. From a practical point of view, many educators throughout the country supply their own classroom materials. Even if school supplies are provided, educators often supplement these materials and resources for lessons and other engagement activities by purchasing materials and activities. Educators bake, nourish, dress up and add sparkle to their classroom every day for the sake of relationship-based learning and creative connections with the children they shape. Educators do this out of passion and commitment to children, investing emotionally and financially into shaping the lives of children. But passion and professionalism are far from mutually exclusive, and passion should never justify low wages!

There has long been a relative level of professionalism and quality expected in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms, and yet, in contrast, the most critical years of a child’s development (early childhood, birth to age eight) has been considered of very little importance, and therefore incredibly undervalued. This is reflected in terminology associating the profession of early childhood education as “glorified babysitters,” portrayals and representations in media, and the discourse surrounding the [lack of] infrastructure of childcare. Historically, systemic factors around the gendered and racialized work of caregiving have also shaped the cultural value of early childhood education. 

Quite simply, the pay for early childhood educators has not increased commensurate with the increased requirements for professionalism and excellence!

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Professional educators invest time, energy, talents, and resources to shape and support the children they work with

While the level of professionalism is increasing, the expectations for educators to teach in a certain way are also changing. The research and science around brain development, whole child development, the conditions for optimal brain and whole-person development, and developmentally appropriate best practice for children is shifting and changing for so much the better. And yet, regardless of education level, childhood credential certification, or professional development training, early childhood educators continue to be among the least well-paid professionals. If we are engaged in increasing the level of professionalism in early childhood education, we must consider that higher levels of education warrant higher levels of compensation

Shouldn’t All Educators be Paid a Living Wage

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The average wage in the United States for early care and education professionals is less than $11 an hour, (approximately $22,000 per year), despite 50% of the workforce having over 13 years of experience. The average hourly wage for childcare workers across Boulder County is slightly higher at $14.82 (approximately $30,825 per year). In contrast, a living wage in Boulder, County would be $21.07/ hr for a single adult with no children. However, a living wage for an early childhood educator in Boulder County assumes sufficient access to affordable housing for educators to be able to live in the community in which they invest their time and talents. Affordable housing for staff is a major factor in quality early childhood education experiences.

This discrepancy significantly impacts educators’ ability to save and invest in their life and increase their personal and generational wealth, equity, and capital. When educators are either barely able to pay their bills each month or have to rely on a spouse, significant other, or extended family to support them financially, there is no such thing as financial freedom for educators. Passion alone doesn’t pay bills. 

More recently, expectations have increased across the industry, from the minimum level of qualification required to teach in early childhood classrooms to the state-mandated learning objectives that must be achieved from kindergarten onwards. In so many ways, this is fantastic, bringing early childhood education onto the grander stage of importance for whole child growth and development for our wonderful young beings. Unfortunately, however, the scale of salary increases has not followed in alignment with the increased expectations of what early childhood education should and does look like in practice. 

The world we live in requires that we earn wages of some sort to be able to pay for goods and services that provide for our needs. In turn, this means that the wages we earn must be sufficient enough to pay these bills. Currently, it is not. We must rethink how we perceive and acknowledge professionalism in Early Childhood Education and the expectations we all place on the quality of intentional, responsive, and respectful experiences that educators share with the children in their care. Treehouse Learning believes that all investment in staff education, professional development, and workplace conditions (including compensation) is directly correlated to the quality of care and learning experiences provided. 

Commitment to Quality Early Childhood Education via Staff Compensation

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Professional educators deserve to be compensated in a way that reflects their value and contribution to society

Treehouse Learning is committed to quality early childhood education and experiences, and we believe, and research supports, that compensation of our staff is a top predictor of program quality. All investments towards improving the lives of educators through compensation, benefits, personal and professional skills, and support for overall whole-person well-being have an outsized impact that directly and positively impacts children. Pay, compensation, and working conditions all impact employee retention and turnover, which has a strong effect on the continuity of care provided to children. 

Additionally, being appropriately empowered to support and guide young children as high-quality and effective educators requires ongoing professional development training, which takes time, investment, and commitment. Quality care also necessitates cultural competency and diversity in the workforce.  How well our early childhood educators are paid, how they are treated and valued, what kind of training and preparation they receive, and how their voices are heard directly shape the childhood learning experiences of children.

Financial freedom provides the ability to be independent and to make choices and decisions that benefit the educator as an individual person, another human being with a life and family of their own. When we feel financially safe and secure, we begin to feel more confident in both our own abilities and in our purpose. This drives us to keep trying and continue learning more, to create and build the life we want to live and how we want to be able to provide for future generations. Simply put-we need to pay our educators, all of our educators, across all levels, at a wage that truly reflects our value, impact, and contribution to society.

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