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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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Four Ideas for Fixing the Pay Problem

Published:  January 18, 2011
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It’s a perennial question: What can policymakers do to promote better salaries for teachers of children who are not yet in kindergarten?  A recent report from Massachusetts presents four ideas to reform compensation for teachers in childcare and early education centers and improve the quality of those centers.

The “Blueprint for Early Education Compensation Reform” comes from the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children, a non-profit organization in Massachusetts.  It highlights ideas from several states that have tried innovative approaches to compensation, including:

  • The establishment of a “career lattice” for early childhood teachers
  • An Earned Income Tax Credit for childcare providers
  • An Early Education Endowment Fund
  • Loan Forgiveness

According to the report, 36 states have some form of career lattice. Maine, for example, has something called the Maine Roads Registry and Career Lattice. The registry stores and tracks information on providers’ experience, education, and training. As providers move up the lattice, they receive an updated certificate showing their new credentials.  The registry also links providers to career counseling, scholarship opportunities and professional development.

Here atEarly Ed Watch, we see Maine’s approach as an opportunity to use data about teachers in childcare and early education centers to improve teacher effectiveness and center quality. If Maine were to integrate the information it is collecting about teachers in childcare and early education centers with the state’s P-20 longitudinal data system, the state may be able to study things like how which teacher training and professional development opportunities do or do not positively correlate with improved learning outcomes for young children. (We have written about the importance of linking early childhood data to statewide data systems before.)

Another example of a career lattice is in Washington, where it is also a wage ladder. As teachers increase their level of education, their pay also increases – $0.25 per hour for every 15 credit hours. After attaining a CDA, Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree, then providers’ compensation increases by $0.50 per hour worked.

The report highlights Louisiana as having the best childcare provider tax credit model.  (A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the required tax payment, enabling workers to keep more of their income.) Louisiana’s “School Readiness” tax credits are tied to the state’s career lattice and quality rating improvement system (QRIS). Childcare providers who have worked in a center that participates in the state’s QRIS receive a tax credit.  Similar to Washington’s wage ladder, as providers increase their level of professional development or education, the tax credit they receive also increases.

Nebraska has a $60 million statewide early childhood education endowment called Sixpence Early Learning Fund. According to the report, it provides grants to school districts who partner with at least one community-based organization to provide services to at-risk children, ages 0-3. The authors also suggested another potential use of funds from an endowment: supplement childcare center reimbursement rates, which they say could bring more financial stability to centers, allowing them to increase compensation, improve center quality and provide or participate in more professional development.

The fourth idea is the establishment of a loan forgiveness program. The federal government has tried several of these types of programs. One such program, the Child Care Provider Loan Forgiveness Demonstration Program, was established to benefit teachers who work in childcare or early education centers and were pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. The average federal award was about $13,000 per recipient. But because the program was a demonstration project, it received limited funding and is no longer accepting new applications.

According to the Blueprint, Illinois and Pennsylvania are examples of states that created their own loan forgiveness programs.  Until 2008, Pennsylvania offered $3,300 per year for up to three years for early educators who received an associate’s or bachelor’s degree between 2004 and 2006.

Illinois capitalized on the federal government’s loan forgiveness program by providing matching funds up to $5,000 per year to early educators who accessed the federal program and who had worked for at least two consecutive years in a center located in a low-income area in Illinois. Illinois spent approximately $500,000 annually and served about 100 teachers each year. Data from the Illinois Department of Human Services showed a drop in turnover rates from 38 percent in 2003, when the state’s program began, to 28 percent in 2009.

Absent of a federal loan forgiveness program, states, as Pennsylvania did, could establish their own incentive as a way to improve quality that forgives debt for continued service as a teacher in a childcare or early education center.

State budgets are in dire straits and resources are getting tighter at the federal level. But that doesn’t mean that policymakers should shy away from conversations about how to build systems that should, in the long term, improve the quality of early childhood centers and pay teachers fairly for helping to raise those quality levels. The individuals who provide early education and care to our youngest children are not paid enough. On average, teachers in childcare centers earn between $8 and $11 per hour depending on their work setting and educational attainment. 

All early childcare and education programs, especially those that receive state or federal funds, should be providing high quality programs that are based on the latest research about how children develop and learn and employ well-trained and effective early childhood teachers.  But this won’t happen independently of investments. It will be up to state and federal policymakers to establish incentives and initiatives that spur the reform that’s needed.

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