By: Gongwer Ohio
Advocates say Ohio's early childhood education system is held back by a lack of support for its workforce, including pay that trails that of fast food cooks.
A new report by Groundwork Ohio looked at the issues affecting the state's early childhood workforce, finding average hourly wages in child care settings were just $10.67 in Fiscal Year 2019. The average annual salary of $22,193 was a shade below the $22,220 for fast food cooks and less than half the $58,960 average salary of a kindergarten teacher.
"When teachers have low wages, it's not reflecting the important work that they're doing. It's also not reflecting the significant investments we've made in our child care system," Julia Hohner, communications and development director at Groundwork and author of the report, said in a webinar presentation. "If we want the best outcomes for the kids we have to invest in and support the teachers as well."
The study looked at the state's nearly 73,000 early childhood professionals in FY 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted an already. Nearly all of them – 95% – were women and a disproportionate number were Black, at 28%.
Ms. Hohner said the report's recommendations include increasing public investments to boost compensation and benefits, improving career pathways in higher education, increasing capacity for professional development, boosting data collection and building the power of professionals through a unified voice.
Kimberly Tice, executive director of the Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children, said her organization's Power to the Profession movement seeks to build that unified voice and encourage policymakers to support the workforce.
"It's our field's way of ensuring that early childhood educators are able to support the development and learning of all young children, and we can't do that if we don't talk about compensation," she said.
"Despite research that confirms that better paid teachers provide better quality care, and that the teacher shortages are driven by low compensation, as Groundwork's report shows, compensation remains too low for everyone."
Investments in quality early childhood education pay off in the future, as children who are taught well before age five have higher high school graduation rates and better outcomes in life, said Debra Brathwaite with Dayton-Montgomery County Preschool Promise.
"Providing quality preschool education is an investment in the future, especially for students of color who are often marginalized and live in poverty," she said.
But that requires the work of a trained, competent teacher, she said. In order to guarantee that, they must have better compensation.
"We need to promote the idea that there is a return on investment when we support early childhood programs and the people who staff them," she said.
Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) said many policymakers still think of early childhood educators more as babysitters than as teachers. Not only is it important for the development of young children, but it's a critical component of the state's economy.
"All of these things that we've talked about this morning are really the foundation for a healthy community, a healthy family and a healthy state," she said.