Early Childhood Educators Set California Kids on the Path to Success
A highly-qualified, well-compensated teaching staff is key to quality early care and education
Quality early care and education (ECE) can strengthen California’s current and future workforce, contribute to a strong state economy and public safety, and enhance national security. Unfortunately, California’s early education system does not meet the needs of children, families or educators. When families do not have the child care they need, parents’ work productivity falls, resulting in costs to parents, their employers, and, ultimately, taxpayers. Lack of access to preschool places children from families with low incomes at risk of starting school already behind their more advantaged peers. Inadequate compensation and subpar working conditions for educators results in high levels of turnover, impacting the quality of programs.
There are other consequences as well. California jails are full of people serving time for serious and costly crimes. It doesn’t have to be that way. Providing at-risk children with high-quality ECE opportunities can help reduce the human and fiscal costs of crime in the future, by setting children up for success in school and beyond. Further, our national security relies on qualified young adults who are ready, willing, and able to serve in the U.S. military. However, educational deficits, health issues, and behavior problems (substance use and crime) prevent 71 percent of California youth from qualifying for service. Healthy early development sets the stage for children’s future success. Without improvements to the ECE system, our nation risks having an even smaller military recruiting pool in the future.
I see every day the importance of a well-compensated early childhood workforce to our chamber members’ ability to attract and retain employees, especially women.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated longstanding challenges faced by California’s early learning system. Many California child care providers closed temporarily during the pandemic and thousands closed permanently. In addition, there has been a five percent decline in child care teachers, further impairing a sector that cannot meet the overwhelming demand for its services. Many state preschool programs also closed temporarily and some shifted children to online learning. Even among the ECE programs that have reopened, many are operating at reduced capacity, due to COVID-related precautions and/or staff shortages. As a result of these shortcomings, many parents, especially mothers, have been forced to reduce their work hours or leave the workforce entirely.
As our state responds to the challenges presented by the pandemic, policymakers must continue to grow access to quality early learning programs. A fundamental feature of ECE quality is highly-qualified teachers who are well-trained both before and during their service and who need to be adequately compensated. California policymakers must address the needs of the ECE workforce to ensure that families have the programs they need, parents can return to their jobs, and children can be set on the path to success. Action and innovation now can improve the experiences of California children today and strengthen our state in the years to come.