Early childhood educators are under-appreciated, underpaid

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As a student teacher in the Early Childhood Education program at the University of Connecticut, I am writing to spread awareness on the issue of inadequate teacher compensation for early childhood educators.  When I talk about early childhood, I am referring to the care and education of children between birth and 5 years old, before they enter the public-school system in kindergarten.

Early childhood centers that are funded by the state of Connecticut are now requiring at least 50 percent of their employees to have bachelor’s degrees.  However, many early childhood educators do not have degrees in child development or education.  This also means that 50 percent of early childhood teachers either have little or no education beyond high school.

In the United States 99.2 percent of full-time teachers in all public schools (K-12) have at least a bachelor’s degree, while 58 percent of early childhood educators have some college-level education or higher.  It is concerning that there are a significant amount of untrained teachers in early childhood centers across the country.  Many people believe that infant/toddler and preschool teachers are just “babysitters” and that anyone can take care of young children.  The education requirements and standards for early childhood educators are much lower than those that are required for elementary and secondary school teachers.  Why should our youngest and most vulnerable citizens receive less attention than children in the public-school system and be cared for by people who do not understand child development?

Multiple studies suggest the first five years of life have the greatest influence over a child’s lifespan.  Experiences in early childhood impact people’s emotional, physical, and cognitive abilities throughout life.  Similarly, studies have also found that early intervention with vulnerable children (i.e. children living in poverty, children who have experienced abuse, etc.) at a young age has lifelong positive impacts.

The Perry Preschool Project is an example of how high quality early childcare can have a positive influence on children living in poverty.  African-American children in Ypsilanti, Michigan between the ages of 3 and 4 were provided high quality preschool education for one-two years and then were assessed at age 27 and 40.  Researchers found that at ages 27 and 40 the children who participated in the program, compared to those who did not participate, had fewer arrests, were less likely to be on welfare, earned more per month, owned a home, and had higher high school graduation rates (77 percent graduated).  The study also found that for every dollar spent on the Perry Preschool Project, the public saved $12.80 in social services because of the decrease in arrests, people on welfare, and the decrease use of other social services.

Clearly high-quality early child care impacts children’s outcomes later in life.  All young children deserve to be cared for by trained professionals who can help them grow in all areas of development.  The reason so few people go into the field of early childhood is because of the low compensations that early childhood educators receive.  The average salary for a preschool teacher is around $28,000 a year, while kindergarten and elementary school teachers earn an average of $54,000 a year.  Preschool teachers have a hard time supporting themselves on such a low salary, therefore many move on to other fields of work or education.

In the state of Connecticut, House Bill  7155 was proposed by Rep. Robert Sanchez to the Education Committee requesting that the Office of Early Childhood “develop a proposed early childhood compensation schedule.”  This bill would allow the Office of Early Childhood to look at Connecticut state’s budget and come up with a plan to help better compensate early childhood educators.

Tthis bill is critical in moving the state forward towards higher-quality early childhood education.  I ask you to please call your local representatives in support of this bill.

Hannah Kane is a student teacher at the University of Connecticut.

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