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Daycare teachers Patricia Rosas, left, Belia Fuentes and Rosalina Sotelo have their hands full at Pajaro Valley Unified's child care center for migrant workers in Watsonville.

California is not pursuing key early childhood education policies that would help increase the low wages of childcare workers and preschool teachers, says a new report released Thursday that analyzes the working conditions of early childhood educators in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

However, California is making strides in other areas related to compensation, including raising the minimum wage and offering tax credits for lower-income families, which assists the low-paid early education workforce. The state also earns favorable reviews in the report for laws requiring paid sick days and mandatory paid family leave for many workers.

The report by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at UC Berkeley, “Early Childhood Workforce Index,” ranks the states and Washington, D.C., in several categories as “stalled,” “edging forward,” or “making headway.” Stalled is defined as a state that has made limited or no progress; edging forward as a state that has made partial progress; and making headway as a state that is “taking action and advancing promising policies.” California was one of 22 states categorized as stalled in two key measures:

  • Does the state require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for lead pre-K teachers, similar to educational requirements for kindergarten-through-3rd-grade teachers?
  • Does the state require a minimum of a child development associate’s degree or vocational training for licensed providers?

Those requirements would exert upward pressure on wages, creating a better-paid workforce and, in turn, higher quality early education, the report says. It also highlights the share of childcare workers and preschool teachers who earn so little that they must rely on public assistance – 46 percent nationwide and 47 percent in California, compared to 26 percent of the general population nationwide. And it says that teacher stress caused by financial pressures can harm the quality of their interactions with children and the early education experience.

In another mark against it, California also doesn’t collect data about early education workers – a step that would help shape policies connected to workforce compensation, the report says.

Nationwide, the median hourly wage for childcare workers is $9.77; in California it is $11.61. For self-employed home care providers the national median is $12.44; figures for California workers in this category were unavailable. For preschool teachers the national median hourly wage is $13.74; in California the median for preschool teachers is $15.25. By comparison, the median hourly wage for kindergarten teachers in California is $30.74.

“If we really want to” create a high quality early education experience “we need a highly trained and highly skilled workforce,” said Megan Gunnar, of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child at Harvard University.

“Early educators’ skills, knowledge, and well-being are inseparable from the quality of children’s early learning experiences,” said Marcy Whitebook, director of the UC Berkeley center and one of the study’s authors. “But states are failing to provide the combination of appropriate compensation, professional work environments and training teachers need to help children succeed.”

In the category of requiring qualifications that could increase wages, the report ranks 22 states “stalled,” including Washington, Oregon, Texas and Florida; 24 states were “edging forward” in that category, the study says, while five were “making headway” – Hawaii, Mississippi, Illinois, New Jersey and Georgia.

Researchers and childcare workers made the case for higher wages at a Thursday press conference to announce the study’s release.

Megan Gunnar, a professor of child development and a member of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child at Harvard University, said “It is incontrovertible that science has shown us that early childhood is critical for brain development” and future learning.

“If we really want to” create a high quality early education experience “we need a highly trained and highly skilled workforce,” Gunnar said.

One reason the early education workforce is paid as little as it is, said Whitebook, is that it is overwhelmingly female and “people have not come to think of it as skilled work; they think it’s work that women can do.”

“We need to shift our understanding of the importance and complexity of the work,” she said.

In June, a federal Department of Education report, High-Quality Early Learning Settings Depend on a High-Quality Workforce,” reached the same conclusion: that low wages are hindering efforts to improve the quality of early education programs.

Whitebook said she believes that the discussion about pay in the field of early education is reaching a point where change could start to occur – partly because of steps being undertaken around the country to boost the minimum wage, and also because state-mandated quality rating systems for childcare and preschools are becoming more widespread. Those factors are driving home the links between pay and quality, she said.

“I think we’re in a new period of discussion about it,” she said.

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