With the “Week of the Young Child” [the annual celebration of early learning hosted by National Association for the Education of Young Children] having just concluded on April 16, it is an important time to bring to everyone’s attention the widespread problem of low wages in early childhood education (ECE). Though ECE is critical for children, families and society, early childhood educators have the lowest salaries of all college graduates. The longstanding problem of retaining early childhood educators is now being exacerbated, especially in high cost areas like San Francisco. Early childhood educators’ monthly income is less than the average monthly rent of a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco.
Program directors are noticing the impact: job openings are staying vacant for longer periods of time than they have experienced before.
What complicates matters is that for child care, the solution cannot be borne by individuals. Both hard-working parents and the teachers who care for and educate young children have subsidized the system all they can. Low wages don’t allow teachers to stay in the field and higher tuitions will make needed child care unaffordable for middle- and low-income families.
Current state subsidies do not cover the cost of our youngest children’s care and education.
Ironically, in high-cost counties such as ours, the child care centers with the lowest subsidies are the ones receiving a standard state-wide rate, and therefore struggling the most to cover costs. These are the very sites serving our lowest-income families, and which also have more regulations in place providing structures to support high quality care, such as fewer children for each teacher. To meet the goal of serving low-income families at the highest quality, these sites must be subsidized to cover the cost of care.
A large part of the cost of care and education is teacher pay. Yet pay is so low in the ECE field that many child care providers will be getting a raise due to San Francisco minimum wage laws—but those with years of experience, expertise, and degrees in ECE will get nowhere near similarly educated K-12 teachers or others in the workforce.
As a community, we need to speak out and ensure that early childhood educators have the resources needed to take care of themselves and their own families, so they are able to provide the care and education our youngest deserve. Let’s start with pay on par with K-12 educators and work together to make San Francisco livable for families and educators.
San Francisco Child Care Providers’ Association
Story by: Sara Hicks-Kilday