Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children
Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Early educators already know their salaries are too low, and now so do Boston Globe readers, thanks to last week’s article: “State raises expectations, but not pay, for preschool teachers.”

“While policy makers and educators promote the transformative power of early education,” the article says, “preschool teachers are still paid baby sitters’ wages — even though many of them have, at the state’s urging, continued their education and come to the job bearing bachelor’s degrees.”

“More than a decade after Massachusetts created a department to ensure that preschools would be viewed as potential laboratories of learning, not just playgrounds, the Department of Early Education and Care has succeeded in raising standards to professionalize the field but has not rewarded those expectations.”

One example is Kristin Hovey who earns $14.25 an hour. Hovey is “entrusted with the budding young minds of 18 disadvantaged children whose government-sponsored preschool education aims to lift them out of poverty.”

However: “At that wage, she is nearly consigned to poverty herself. The single mother has to work extra jobs on nights and weekends to make ends meet.”

“I do it because I love them and it’s important,” Hovey tells the Globe. “It’s their foundation for all of school.”

Karen N. Frederick adds, “We did all the things we were asked to do… Our teachers continued their education. They’re getting their bachelor’s. We were convinced that the money would follow because we felt like the commitment was there. But it hasn’t.” Frederick is the executive director of Community Teamwork Inc., an antipoverty agency in Lowell that runs the child care center where Hovey works.

As the Globe explains, Massachusetts uses federal block grant money to pay for “most or all of the cost of child care for about 18,000 preschool-age children from low-income or troubled homes, but its rates don’t come close to actual costs.

“In Lowell, for instance, a family pays about $47 a day to send a child to preschool. When the state pays the bill, the preschool gets only $37.13. Since most of the centers’ costs are salaries, they have less money to pay teachers.”

Another example is Nurtury, a provider with programs in Boston and Cambridge that “charges families $55 a day for preschool but accepts low-income children at the state’s rate of $38.22. Much higher rates — around $72 — are charged by the city’s for-profit preschools that don’t accept subsidies.”

William J. Eddy, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Early Education and Care, tells the Globe that when the state pays “deflated rates, it basically forces programs to balance the books on the backs of their employees.”

Low reimbursement rates are a particularly tough burden for programs that mostly serve children from low income families and receive little or no market-rate pay for their work. This financial situation may also explain why some programs have closed.

According to the Globe, “Annual reports by Child Care Aware, a national information resource that surveys child care referral agencies in each state, found the overall number of day care centers in Massachusetts dropped about 18 percent over the past five years, from 3,195 to 2,617.”

And as program administrators know too well, many talented teachers leave early education and care programs because they can earn much more money teaching in public schools.

To bring badly needed attention to the issue, early educators, advocates, and policy officials continue to highlight the challenges of low salaries.

In 2013, Tom Weber, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Early Education and Care, submitted a report on the needs of the early education and care field. In addition:

“Weber recently requested an extra $31 million in the budget to bring rates paid to the schools closer to market value. But the budget that Governor Charlie Baker introduced last month would increase early education funding by only about $1 million. And unlike last year, when he committed $5 million to boost rates, Baker’s new budget does not offer child care providers any raises.”

Last December, “early childhood educators flooded a meeting of the state Board of Early Education and Care to explain their economic predicament. One former teacher said she quit her job last year because it paid so little she feared she and her two children would end up homeless.”

One of the teachers at that meeting was Kariuska Sanchez, a preschool teacher who had a prepared statement that read in part: “I know that we don’t enter this field for pay. But we need to make enough to put food on the table and pay the rent. It is a little disappointing that I currently flip burgers part time and make more than I did working full time educating children.”

It’s an expensive problem to solve. It could cost $134 million to bring early educators’ salaries up to market rates.

To close the salary gap, the Put MA Kids First coalition is recommending a three-year, $120 million investment in early educator workforce quality that would start with a $40 million rate reserve in FY17. The reserve would:

• increase the average salary of early educators from $25,000 to $27,250

• raise early educators’ hourly wage from $12.25 to $13.10, and

• raise the minimum pay for entry level teaching staff to $15 per hour by FY ‘18

While Massachusetts may not achieve these goals in a single budget year, the state can move in the right direction by paying salaries that more fairly and adequately compensate early educators for teaching young children and preparing them for lifelong success.