Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Early educators’ salaries are unconscionably low, but Massachusetts leaders are starting to address this.

The Washington Post sounded an alarm about early educators’ salaries last year, reporting:

“The people who are paid to watch America’s children tend to live in poverty. Nearly half receive some kind of government assistance: food stamps, welfare money, Medicaid. Their median hourly wage is $9.77 — about $3 below the average janitor’s.”

The post cited a report written by Marcy Whitebook, noting:

“In a new report, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley warn that child care is too vital to the country’s future to offer such meager wages. Those tasked with supporting kids, they explain, are shaping much of tomorrow’s workforce.”

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo had shared a similar warning a few months earlier, the Boston Globe reported. DeLeo declared that the early education workforce was “in crisis.”

The Globe added: “There are about 90,000 early childhood teachers in the state, who earn a median annual salary of around $25,000 — just $700 above the federal poverty level for a family of four.”

Fortunately, Massachusetts’ fiscal year 2018 budget takes a badly needed step forward. It includes $38.5 million for an Early Education and Care rate increase to support educators’ salaries. According to Governor Baker’s office, this is “the largest rate increase in a decade for all early education and care programs for low-income families.”

The $38.5 million comes from a few sources: a $15 million rate reserve passed in the FY18 budget; a reversion of unspent FY17 funds from the state’s Income Eligible child care account; and efficiencies from implementing a new financial management system for subsidies. Visit Mass Budget and Policy Center for more details.

This progress is promising — and it paves the way for further workforce investments.

In addition to Governor Baker’s support, House Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg have both led initiatives this year in support of the early education workforce. In February, DeLeo, together with legislators and business leaders, released the report, “The Business Imperative for Early Education.” In May, the Senate released “Kids First: A Blueprint for Investing in our Future,” a comprehensive Birth-8 plan that includes recommendations to improve early educator compensation, credentials, and competencies.

As Whitebook explains in her report, “States making headway demonstrate that the potential to make progress is within our grasp.” She adds:

“Transforming early childhood jobs requires transforming wider early childhood policies and infrastructure and embracing early care and education as a public good. A starting point is to ensure that our definition of quality includes appropriate compensation and supportive work environments.”