Childcare Matters: Improving workforce compensation is the key to quality and availability
This post was authored by Mary Manner, Great Start Coordinator, TraverseCONNECT
A new article about child care seems to pop up in the news almost every week, focusing either on the high cost of care or the shortage of quality care, or both. At their core, these issues are two sides of the same coin and the currency is workforce compensation.
In my home state of Michigan, as in many other states, the decline in the number of child care providers is alarming (find your state’s info here). As economic conditions here have improved in the last five years the demand for quality child care has increased yet the supply is on the decline, especially for infants and toddlers. On average, thirty providers close their businesses every month, and the reason most often given is to seek better pay and benefits.
If workforce compensation is fundamental to increasing the supply of quality child care, what can Chambers do to have an impact? The first step is to recognize child care providers as professionals who deserve to earn a livable wage for the important work they do educating and nurturing our youngest citizens, and the second step is to understand how families pay for care.
Fortunately there are some resources we can look to for guidance. The T.E.A.C.H. program, administered by the T.E.A.C.H. National Center, provides support for child care providers who want to access higher education. A related program, WAGE$, is a wage-supplementation program designed to increase quality through higher educational attainment of providers. Both programs depend on significant public and private investment at the state level to achieve the goals of raising quality and establishing compensation parity between early care professionals and kindergarten/elementary educators. Find out what your state is doing to raise workforce compensation and how you can support the effort.
How families pay for child care is the flip side of compensation. With child care nearly as expensive as college tuition, quality care is already out of reach for many low- and middle-income working families. Raising prices enough to elevate wages is not an option, but there are other ways to capitalize the system.
One solution is to infuse more cash into the system by increasing the utilization of the child care subsidy. Eligibility for the subsidy, paid out of a combination of federal Child Care Development Funds (CCDF) and state funds, varies widely by state. The national goal is make subsidies available to families earning up to 85% of the state median income (find your state’s data here), however many states still have a long way to go to meet that goal.
Recently I asked several center directors to calculate the per-child cost of their programs. The results were disheartening. Providers are charging about forty percent of the actual cost of providing high quality care and making up the difference with summer camps for older children, corporate underwriting, and/or fundraising. Given this business model, it’s hard to see how this path could toward increasing workforce compensation and program sustainability without additional inputs.
Shared services is one promising approach to improving child care business practices and cutting administrative costs, thus freeing up time and money to improve program quality and compensation. The state of Texas has a put together an excellent review of how shared services works for child care. Chambers of commerce may be uniquely able to support local shared services initiatives and provide business expertise.
In my conversations with local child care providers, the one question that keeps coming up is why the Chamber doesn’t do more for them, yet few are chamber members. Maybe it’s the cost, or believing that membership is only for big businesses, or simply being too busy, as owner/operators, to participate. Whatever the reason, perhaps it’s time that we do more to reach out with support and encouragement. It will benefit all of us.
For more information feel free to contact Mary Manner
The Case for Business Investment in Early Childhood Education
New study finds that virtually no one believes less should be done to support Early Childhood Education (ECE)
Okay, that's probably not that surprising. What might surprise you in First Five Years Fund's recently-released report is the widespread public, cross-sector, and bi-partisan support for investment in zero-to-five education. Specifically, the 800 voters surveyed for their report believe overwhelmingly that: 1) Early Education should be regarded as a national priority- second only to increasing economic prosperity and decreasing the tax burden; 2)Early child education and care must be more affordable; and 3) Congress needs to act NOW to increase access to excellent and affordable early education and childcare services.
On the heels of the survey's release a group of Chamber CEOs and business leaders gathered at the US Chamber last Wednesday to advocate on behalf of business investment in early child preparedness programs. Speaking at the gathering, Brian Maher, the retired chairman and CEO fo Maher Terminals and former chairman of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce was quoted in a Washington Post article saying: "If somebody had said to me about a decade ago...that I would one day be down here in Washington speaking on behalf of early chidlhood education, I would have thought they were on drugs."
On drugs he was not. An evolving body of research and data showcases early education's astounding return on investment, and Maher joins a growing contingency of business and public sector leaders that have seen the connection between investment in a child's formative years as a direct investment in our future economy.
For a synthesis of the wide array of early childhood initiatives chambers and business organizations are engaging in across the country, refer to the recently-released study by America's Promise Alliance and project ReadyNation, with support from ACCE: Championing Success: Business Organizations for Early Childhood Investments.
The report shows that at least one state chamber of commerce, large city chamber, or state business roundtable in 44 states has publicly supported early childhood policy initiatives.
Numbers Don't Lie: Take a look to determine the potential impact of your investment.
- $11 of economic benefits over a child's lifetime for every $1 spent on Pre-K programs
- $7 in reducing societal and economic costs for every $1 spent on early childhood education
- Reduction in crime and societal costs
- Increase in college attainment and social and economic mobility
The Early Childhood Imperative
Last month I became a true believer in the importance of early childhood initiatives for America's economic future. I saw the light in Boston, sometime between dinner Thursday and lunch Friday at the National Business Leader Summit on Early Childhood Investment. This two-day meeting of more than 200 corporate, foundation and non-profit executives was organized by the Partnership for America's Economic Success - a project of the Pew Center on the States.
Maybe it happened during the opening keynote when Harvard's Jack Shonkoff illustrated the science of childhood brain development or during the lunch panel when Boeing's senior V.P. for human resources spoke candidly about America's long-term need for creative, adaptable workers. Perhaps it happened in the afternoon workshop when Tim Bartik from the Upjohn Institute highlighted the economic returns for every dollar invested in young children. Regardless, I left Boston a believer.
What struck me most was learning just how much each of us is set up for success or struggle, productivity or incarceration, by the events of our first four years of life. It made me feel quite small. On my way home Friday, I called my mother from the airport and thanked her for reading to me every day from birth until I could comprehend the words on my own.
In addition to a fresh dose of humility, I left Boston with the passion that Kim Sheeler at the Richmond Chamber and Billy Canary at the Business Council of Alabama already have for this issue. Newly minted CCE Jim Page from the Decatur-Morgan County (AL) Chamber, who was also in Boston, informed me that early childhood education is their number one issue.
Chambers of commerce have a long history working on education. The issues are always complex and often emotionally charged. Progress is slow and setbacks are many. But education continues to top chamber agendas because businesses need talent. Our economy runs on smart, adaptable, well-educated people. The innovative, talented people America needs are shaped long before they enter first grade.
Many state and local chambers are already champions for more effective policies to help children develop into successful adults. Others are poised to join. To provide chamber leaders with the best information about the economic and workforce benefits of early childhood programs, ACCE has entered into collaboration with the Partnership for America's Economic Success, a project of the Pew Center on the States.