Tennessee Law Enforcement Leaders Urge Investment in Early Childhood Workforce
Investments in the ECE workforce are critical to improving quality, which can help children and reduce crime in the long run
Increasing the size and quality of the early childhood workforce is an important step in steering kids away from crime and toward educational, career, and life success.
That’s the key takeaway from a new Fight Crime: Invest in Kids report, entitled “Early Childhood Educators: Our Partners in Crime Prevention in Tennessee,” released on Tuesday, December 10 at the Porter-Leath Early Childhood Academy in Memphis, Tennessee.
Speakers at the event included Fight Crime: Invest in Kids members Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings, Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich, and Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, Jr. Joining them in support of building a stronger early childhood workforce were State Senator Raumeth Akbari, State Representative Antonio Parkinson, and Porter-Leath President Sean Lee.
The new report spotlights research showing that a better-educated, better-trained, better-compensated early childhood workforce helps pre-K programs achieve the level of quality necessary for students to reap numerous, positive benefits that can last a lifetime.
The report details numerous studies that show that at-risk kids who have access to high-quality preschool programs are more likely to succeed in school and less likely to commit crimes as adults than similar kids who don’t have access to these programs. Positive outcomes associated with high-quality early childhood education include higher high-school graduation rates and lower drop-out rates, along with the crime-related benefits.
However, there must be enough teachers with appropriate training and education in order to create high-quality programs that get those results.
“What I can tell you from experience is that it’s important to get to kids as early as possible,” said Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings, underscoring the crucial impact of early childhood programs to public safety. “Putting them on the right path as they’re just beginning school is a vital step in keeping them away from crime as they grow up.” Director Rallings also stressed the wide variety of skills–both academic and social–that our youngest learners can acquire in such programs.
Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich echoed Director Rallings’ points and focused on the special importance of teachers. “Teachers are the foundation of high-quality early childhood education,” she noted. “Teachers need to be well-educated, supported with excellent professional development opportunities, and well-compensated” in order for programs to be most effective, Weirich explained.
In particular, she emphasized the current teacher pay gap in Tennessee. “Tennessee pre-K teachers have an annual average wage of $32,630, which is substantially lower than our average kindergarten teacher salary of $50,160,” she said, citing compensation as one of the primary factors in finding and retaining talent.
Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, Jr. added his support at the event as well, touting the benefits of high-quality pre-K and the importance of making sure that Tennessee has the workforce it needs to make pre-K’s goals a reality for kids statewide.
Noting the report’s findings, Sheriff Bonner called for professional development standards that represent the best research available, a streamlined, more consistent approach to teacher certification, and better wages for pre-K teachers in order to attract and retain talented instructors.
“[Boosting the pre-K workforce] matters to me as a law-enforcement professional, and as a proud Tennessean,” he said. “I always want the best for our kids, but I especially want these kids to grow up well-educated, healthy, and safe–and I want them to do that without ever seeing the inside of a patrol car or a cell.”
See below for a selection of photos from the event