While families are the first and most important teachers in a young child’s life, we also need to focus our efforts on supporting early education professionals as they too play a crucial role in supporting hundreds of thousands of young children in Ohio. Each week, early education professionals educate and support the healthy development of infants and toddlers to better prepare them for kindergarten and beyond. Early childhood educators in child care programs have always been seen as an essential support in our overall public infrastructure and this was especially true throughout the pandemic as other essential workers such health care and public safety professionals relied on them for support. Despite this crucial role early education professionals play in the lives of young children and working families, the profession continues to be woefully underfunded and undervalued by state and federal policies.
Many early childhood educators in Ohio have a degree or credential beyond a high school diploma. However, in infant/toddler classrooms, early childhood educators are far less likely to have a degree or credential beyond a high school diploma and are paid on average less than early childhood educators in preschool-age classrooms. A highly-qualified early childhood educator – one who understands developmentally appropriate practices – is key to setting young children up for success by providing them with a high-quality early learning experience.
Overall, on average, early childhood education professionals make $10.67 per hour – less than half of our state’s average hourly wage of $24.65 per hour. This means that early childhood education educators are making less on average than a parking lot attendant in Ohio. This low wage qualifies many early childhood educators for public assistance. In addition to this poverty-level wage, most early childhood education professionals do not receive employer benefits, paid leave, or planning time. The result of these low wages and benefits have made it increasingly difficult for child care providers to retain staff and has impacted the ability for early childhood educators to provide high-quality care as they experience poverty, stress, and depression.
In recent years, Ohio and the federal government have made progress on increasing investments in early childhood education, but it is clearly not enough as more and more early childhood educators have left this profession entirely to earn a livable wage elsewhere. The actual cost of providing child care is not reflected in how Ohio funds its publicly funded child care system. If Ohio wants to maintain and grow our child care system to support more children and families, it will require policy change, increased investments, and strategic financing.
Recently, Groundwork Ohio released a new report detailing Ohio’s current early childhood education landscape and the challenges it faces. Additionally, this report provides eight recommendations to consider when advancing the early childhood education profession.