Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children
Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Low salaries are driving early educators out of their jobs, eroding efforts to offer high-quality programs to young children.

This challenge was featured in a front page news story in Sunday’s Worcester Telegram and Gazette, which reports:

“Losing needed staff is never a good thing. But for early childhood education centers these days, it can be especially demoralizing, said Kim Davenport, who recalled the case of one aspiring teacher who recently passed up a full-time classroom job for a higher-paying gig – at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

“‘We’re losing the talent we really need in these programs,’ said Ms. Davenport, managing director of a multiagency initiative underway in Worcester aimed at expanding the city’s preschool options.”

And while early educators are getting advanced degrees that help them become even better teachers, these degrees aren’t leading to salary increases.

“Most child care centers and preschools require one teacher like Ms. Colameta who has at least attained a bachelor’s degree per classroom. Many teachers go on to obtain even higher degrees,” the Telegram and Gazette explains.

“But there is no real reward waiting at the end of those investments, said Worcester State University education professor Carol Donnelly. ‘I have students graduating with master’s degrees, and their income isn’t going to change at all,’ she said.”

“‘We’re seeing teachers just churning,’ said Sharon MacDonald, program director at Guild of St. Agnes and director of member serves at the Worcester-based Massachusetts Association of Early Education and Care. ‘The stability for the kids just isn’t there.’”

Programs are also having a hard time finding staff to hire, making it tough – and in some cases impossible – to meet the demand for spots in high-quality classrooms.

“The whole system is starting to crumble,” MacDonald told the Telegram and Gazette.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo also sees the pressing needs. He has said that the early education workforce is in crisis.

And as we’ve blogged, these workforce challenges are a national problem.

Fortunately, state legislators can help.

Experts (including our own Amy O’Leary) say, “this year could finally mark a turning point, as the state’s lawmakers pledge a renewed focus on providing more funding to child care and preschool programs across Massachusetts.

“‘I think this is the year,’ said Amy O’Leary, director of Boston-based Strategies for Children’s Early Education for All campaign. ‘I think we’re seeing a tipping point for legislative leaders.’”

In addition: “Sen. Jennifer L. Flanagan, D-Leominster, meanwhile, has a bill that would dedicate a small fraction of excise taxes to create an ‘early educator rewards program’ that would provide extra compensation for staff at eligible programs.”

Federal funding also has a positive role to play.

“Ms. Davenport, for example, said she is hopeful Worcester’s Birth to 3rd Grade Alignment project will soon receive a federal grant like the one five other cities in the state recently received to fund their preschool expansion plans.”

Here at Strategies for Children, we think a shared approach is essential. Partnerships among local, state, and federal governments as well as community organizations and philanthropies could help strengthen the workforce, and this would improve the early educational experiences of young children in Massachusetts.