Our world is witnessing an important shift in ECE and long-overdue acknowledgment of its larger role in the US economy. Among these shifts includes Governor Newsom’s recent May Revision, which includes universal Pre-K; with every idea, solutions are necessary, and Child360 continues to be a part of that solution, especially in the areas related to the early learning workforce.
POLITICO reached out to Child360 Board Member, Dorian Traube for comment. Read on to hear her take and that of Child360 CEO, Bill Sperling, who rounded out the piece.
|Labor shortage complicates Newsom’s plan for universal pre-k in California|
|By Richard Tzul | 06/24/2021 04:58 PM EDT|
To address the labor shortage, Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed spending $3.3 billion on teacher recruitment and training for public schools. | Haven Daily/AP Photo
|LOS ANGELES — Gov. Gavin Newsom has pitched an ambitious expansion of child care and pre-kindergarten in California, but a severe labor shortage in early education — worsened by the pandemic — threatens to thwart his agenda.
In his budget blueprint last month, Newsom proposed funding 100,000 new subsidized child care slots for lower income families and a year of free public pre-k, or “transitional kindergarten,” for every 4-year-old in the state. But almost immediately after the announcement, the reality set in: There simply aren’t enough teachers.
“That’s the big problem,” said Bill Sperling of Child360, a Los Angeles based organization advocating for early education. “It’s wonderful that there’s all this money coming into ECE, it’s been a long time coming, but it’s not going to be very helpful if they don’t solve that very challenge.”
The fragile industry, powered by lower income women of color, had already been teetering on the edge before the pandemic. Now, the state’s economic recovery is relying heavily on the sector, as are the vast numbers of women who left the workforce during the pandemic to care for their children.
California would need to hire up to 15,000 transitional kindergarten teachers for the universal program Newsom proposed, according to the Department of Finance. The state did not have a similar estimate for the proposed child care expansion, as the required staffing ratios differ by setting and age group, but California would need 12,500 new teachers and staff to be able to add 100,000 new slots at a ratio of eight children per adult.
Advocates and educators who were trying to call attention to early education staffing challenges long before Covid-19 struck the U.S say the situation has only grown more dire. They warn that a rapid expansion of the workforce won’t happen without significant spending to boost pay and draw more people into the field.
“We’ve lost about 14,000 jobs in child care in California since the start of the pandemic,” said Lea Austin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at UC Berkeley. “So, we had a shortage before, we have a greater shortage now.”
Experts and advocates attribute the problem to several factors, with low wages being the most prevalent. Pay inequities run rampant in early childhood education, they say, making certain settings more vulnerable to large-scale policy shifts such as the ones Newsom has proposed. What’s more, the pandemic has slowed the pipeline of new K-12 teachers and classified staff while causing others to leave their jobs. A glut of those better-paying positions will likely make it even harder to attract enough early child care workers.
The median hourly wage of an early childhood educator in California was $13.43 as of 2019, about a third of what the average kindergarten teacher earned that year, according to the UC Berkeley center. The poverty rate of the child care workforce is nearly double the average for all the state’s workers.
Education advocates and a bipartisan group of lawmakers slammed Newsom last month for excluding reimbursement rate increases in his budget alongside his expansion plan. Lawmakers have pushed to raise the rates, which would give pay increases to those offering subsidized care, in ongoing negotiations with Newsom over how to use an unprecedented budget surplus.
Reimbursement rate increases are a top priority for lawmakers, said Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), an education advocate who chairs the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education. “It’s the line in the sand that we’re drawing in the Legislature,” he said.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), a longtime ally of providers, indicated that higher reimbursement rates and subsidized child care slots were a higher priority than universal transitional kindergarten. Rendon, along with Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), joined child care union members at the Capitol on Thursday to demand that Newsom include higher reimbursement rates in the budget.
It looks likely that reimbursement rate increases will be a part of the budget, said an early education industry lobbyist who spoke on background. Rate hikes won’t ease the labor shortage across the sector, however, as the vast majority of early educators don’t provide subsidized care.
Providers say it can prove difficult to start offering subsidized slots, despite the need.
“I spoke to and emailed people from four different places, trying to find out who I can talk to in order to get this. ‘Is there an application? What do I do? What standards do I have to meet?’” said Erin Hinton, who offers private child care but was looking to provide subsidized care. “I just was passed on from person to person.”
The system is too bureaucratic, making it difficult to obtain a permit to become a provider of any kind, Sperling said. Other barriers to joining the workforce: a lack of clear educational pathways and months-long background checks that prompt some to look for work elsewhere.
The early education ecosystem is vast and diverse. It encompasses costly private care accessible only to affluent families; home-based providers who offer subsidized slots for lower-income families; and subsidized center-based programs.
“Child care in California and the nation is a perfect example of a market failure,” said Kristin Schumacher, a senior policy analyst at the California Budget and Policy Center who argues the system should be funded more like K-12 public education. “Families pay as much as they possibly can for safe care for their kids. And that still isn’t enough to adequately pay providers and their staff the wages and the reimbursement necessary to cover all their overhead costs.”
To make matters more complicated, an expanded public transitional kindergarten program might siphon workers away from other child care programs with its better pay and benefits. Early care providers who hold a bachelor’s degree are paid 37.8 percent less than their counterparts in the K-8 system, which includes transitional kindergarten, according to Austin of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment.
Newsom’s plan would potentially quadruple the transitional kindergarten enrollment, now open only to those with fall birthdays.
Universal pre-k for 4-year-olds could even put child care centers and home day cares out of business, further worsening the shortage, said Jacob Stewart, director of state government relations at the Early Care & Education Consortium, a coalition of child care programs across the country. Those businesses rely on the cheaper cost of caring for 4-year-olds, who require lower staffing ratios. Shifting care to younger children would make the economics difficult, if not impossible, Stewart said.
Even before Covid-19 struck the U.S., there weren’t nearly enough educators to accommodate the youngest Californians. In 2019, there were less than 117,000 early childhood educators in the workforce, roughly one for every 26 children ages 5 and under, according to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment.
To address the labor shortage, Newsom has proposed spending $3.3 billion on teacher recruitment and training for public schools. About a third of that funding would focus on expanding the transitional kindergarten workforce. Meanwhile, the Legislature wants to allocate $250 million in federal funds for early education workforce development.
Advocates and researchers say the state has to be smart and creative about its workforce challenges. California could prioritize college admission for applicants seeking a career in early education, offer scholarships to those students and develop more training programs, said Dorian Traube, a University of Southern California professor whose expertise includes child development.
Traube and others cautioned against watering down requirements for work qualification as a shortcut to allow more into the workforce.
There will be challenges to Newsom’s plan, Traube said, but “those challenges should not be used as an excuse to avoid implementing the plan. We know that California’s youngest citizens deserve more than they are currently receiving educationally, and that lack of investment in early childhood hurts all Californians.”
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