Photo: Zaidee Stavely/EdSource

California’s efforts to reopen our economy during the pandemic created tremendous public health risks, many of which are borne by child care providers. To ensure that child care centers reopen — and can stay open so parents can return to work — the state must spend tax dollars to protect early childhood educators.

The California 2020-21 budget agreement retains subsidies for child-care providers serving low-income families but funding for additional supplies and staff to meet pandemic-required health and safety guidelines depends on federal dollars.

The federal CARES Act will provide $144 million for cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, and another $125 million in one-time stipends for providers. But in a state with more than 9 million children and at least 200,000 early childhood educators, this will not go nearly far enough. It certainly will not provide health care for the many uninsured and underinsured child care providers.

And passage of another federal aid bill, the HEROES Act, which state lawmakers are looking to for additional aid, is by no means assured.

Early childhood educators need money to pay for cleaning supplies and services and personal protection equipment. Some data suggest that early educators already have spent an average of $700 out of pocket to cover these ongoing costs. They need hazard pay and priority access to Covid-19 tests — measures to protect them and the rest of us from infection.

Without a public commitment to support the health and safety of child care providers in the coming months, our economy will not be able to open. And, without high-quality child care, we risk allowing this crisis to harm our children’s futures.

The early care and education profession already is characterized by deep poverty and instability. With median wages of just over $12 per hour and limited access to employer sponsored medical benefits, this workforce is particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. Prior to the pandemic, more than 30% of early educators were food insecure, and in California roughly 60% of early educators qualified for some sort of means-tested public support.

Working conditions that erode wellbeing and generate instability for workers are not just bad for our economy — they also have grave consequences for young children who need well-trained, professional teachers and caregivers. Children’s experiences during their first five years have an outsized impact on their long-term physical, mental, personal and economic wellbeing.

Rapid brain and corresponding skill development sets the stage for subsequent growth and learning, and a large body of research has documented the importance of high-quality early care and education in preparing children to thrive. Unfortunately, it is difficult to offer warm, engaging, and intellectually stimulating care when one’s own basic needs are not met.

In addition to state and federal funding, philanthropic organizations need to identify ways to invest in the people who are providing care, rather than the technology that assists them. And, as we again place our children in the care of these frontline workers, we must acknowledge that returning to pre-pandemic working conditions is not tenable.

The words of one early educator sum it up well: “we are supposed to open up… and we have to sign waivers because of this virus. I have family and friends that have died.… I [am] scared to return to work but I have no choice.” This is unconscionable.

We are relying on early educators more than ever to support young children and families as we rebuild the economy. It’s time to devote public dollars to paying and supporting early educators in proportion to the incredible service they provide. Our survival during this pandemic, and how prepared we are for the next crisis, depends upon it.

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Anna J. Markowitz and Rashmita Mistry are professors at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Deb Valentine is the executive director of the Early Child Care and Education Center at UCLA.

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  1. Eileen Voelker 3 months ago3 months ago

    The state of California’s child care programs have always been burdened financially and in need of funding. They continue to provide services to families whose parents work from home, putting an undue burden on the child care workforce in order to receive their funding. Now that school is starting, what other burdens will be put on the teachers?

  2. Ana Landaverde 3 months ago3 months ago

    Child care providers make no money, and teachers that are staying home are still getting paid. We are risking our life too! If my center has school age children and we are responsible now to help them with distance learning, because their parents have to work, I feel we deserve more money. $12 an hour is not enough.

  3. Joe 3 months ago3 months ago

    As we move through this pandemic, our children care workers have been working right next to children. As we move forward now that schools are not reopening, we are being forced to teach these children in our care as a teacher in school would. My question is if it is risking a teacher's life to teach them, then why are we still teaching them? Plus we are not qualified teachers; we are caregivers that are … Read More

    As we move through this pandemic, our children care workers have been working right next to children. As we move forward now that schools are not reopening, we are being forced to teach these children in our care as a teacher in school would.

    My question is if it is risking a teacher’s life to teach them, then why are we still teaching them? Plus we are not qualified teachers; we are caregivers that are being made to be teachers and risk our lives with no compensation.