Highly educated… undercompensated

It has been my privilege to serve Wisconsin Early Childhood Association for the past 14 years. Our organization works to promote the critical importance of the child care profession and strengthen investments in the teachers who provide vital care and education to children from over 72% of Wisconsin’s families each day.

Child care professionals struggle against common misperceptions of their work.  Over time, I have heard variations on the following theme: “Child care providers are really just babysitters, aren’t they? Therefore, their compensation seems right in line, yes?”

Well, no.

In early July Wisconsin Early Childhood Association released a comprehensive study of early childhood teachers in Wisconsin. (Our last study was in 2010). The findings will make for some very different conversations.

Take for example the education level of child care teachers. More than half – 52% – have an Associate degree or higher. This is more than the Wisconsin workforce in general in which 42% hold an Associate degree or higher.2  The education level of child care teachers has a considerable effect on the quality of teaching and on outcomes for our youngest children. Higher education at even greater levels for the early childhood profession is essential.
College graduateYet, there’s an unexplained pay gap. Wisconsinites with an Associate degree who work in fields other than early care and education can expect to earn $18/hour on average. However, degree-holders in early care and education can expect pay which averages $10/hour.  Annualized, child care teachers earn $17,000 less than other Wisconsinites with an Associates degree. The gap grows wider when comparing those in the field who hold a Bachelor’s degree  – $12/hour – versus those who hold that degree and work in another field – $22.80/hour. Annually, the child care teacher with the Bachelor’s degree earns fully $22,500 LESS.

Often I hear, “Well child care teachers don’t go into the field for money. They do the work because they love children.”  It’s a perception not unique to Wisconsin. A recent article in the New York Times described a conversation between a child care provider in New Mexico and a legislator she visited at the state Capitol to lobby for education funding:

“She remembered meeting with a senator who told her, ‘You don’t get into this for the money; you’re paid in love.’ ‘Really?’ she replied. ‘When my landlord comes, can I just give him a hug?’

  1. COWS, State of Working Wisconsin 2014 http://www.cows.org

Ruth Schmidt is Executive Director of Wisconsin Early Childhood Association and a registered lobbyist.

Early childhood education ranks as top priority for voters

Early childhood education ranks as top priority for voters

ffyf top priority graphic

For three years running, the First Five Years Fund’s annual bipartisan poll shows that early childhood education is a national priority for Americans, regardless of party. ““For the first time in our three years of polling, American voters’ top priority is making sure children get a strong start in life, a concern equal to improving the overall quality of public education,” says Kris Perry, Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund. In the poll, 89% of voters agree that we need to ensure more children don’t miss out on early learning and socialization experiences during the first five years of life when the brain develops more dramatically. 63% strongly agree on this point.

ffyf invest now graphic

What does this mean for Wisconsin?
For WECA – a statewide organization focused on the child care workforce and programs that raise childcare quality – the findings inspire us to keep moving forward. In myriad ways WECA calls for greater investment in quality early care. Our outreach, education and advocacy on this issue is multi-faceted. In 2015 WECA published Starting Early, Starting Now, a research report that outlines potential ways forward in funding a child care delivery system in Wisconsin that is accessible and affordable to all families. Our interactive “Jack’s story” shows the return on investment Wisconsin taxpayers will see when young children get quality early care right from the start. And as the source detail notes – the financial projections are conservative. Throughout the year WECA staff meet with Wisconsin legislators and serve as policy advisors on key state and national committees focused on young children and the early childhood workforce that is so central to the outcomes we seek. WECA works with community partners and recently, sponsored a viewing and discussion of the Raising of America documentary that is traveling throughout the U.S.

As we move closer to the general election cycle we’ll be increasing our outreach and education on behalf of early childhood education investments in Wisconsin.

Your support is needed – as an advocate in our Forward for Kids initiative – and as a donor.  Contributions enable WECA to strengthen its statewide advocacy work that unites families, policymakers, child care providers and others in building a high quality and affordable system of early care and education for all children.

Return on Investment- Wisconsin-style

Return on Investment- Wisconsin-style

Many studies connect high-quality child care to positive impacts for children as they get older.  And many studies by economists, such as Dr. James Heckman, attach real dollars to the savings that are obtained. Articles, blog postings and opinion pieces appear on this topic with high frequency. The message that it makes good economic sense to invest in early childhood education has hit the mainstream, which is a good thing.

WECA wanted to tell the return on investment story that is unique to Wisconsin.  With funding from the Alliance for Early Success, WECA worked with the Committee for Economic Development to do just that.

Follow the story of Jack – a child who has access to 5-star child care in Wisconsin. See the benefits that accrue, and the dollars saved when certain things don’t happen (being held back a grade in school, being placed in special education, dropping out of high school, being incarcerated, relying on public assistance). See the economic impact when other things do happen (high school and college graduation).  The benefits and numbers grow exponentially as the scenarios expand to show the financial impact on Wisconsin if all our low-income children attended 5-star childcare programs.

WECA looks forward to sharing this powerful new advocacy tool and we ask you to share it widely and often. It’s yet another way to work together to create new practices and policies that enable all children to start off strong.

Grants support improvements in credit transfer between 2-and 4-year colleges

Grants support improvements in credit transfer between 2-and 4-year colleges

Across Wisconsin, projects are underway that will streamline how early childhood education credits transfer between 2- and 4-year colleges and universities. The transfer agreements – also known as “articulation” agreements will be strengthened between the schools in the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System and private colleges and universities.

Image: John Walker via Flicker.com Early childhood education students will complete courses more easily, bringing new skills to Wisconsin’s youngest children

Image: John Walker via Flicker.com
Early childhood education students will complete courses more easily, bringing new skills to Wisconsin’s youngest children

“The more we work together to solve problems, the faster they will get solved and the better the outcomes.  Articulation is a means to get the conversation going,” says Eloise Anderson, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. The Department is the primary funder of the grants.

Other fiscal partners include the University of Wisconsin’s Waisman Center, the Wisconsin Technical College System, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.  In total, 10 projects were granted funding to resolve key barriers to credit transfer.

In a collaboration between Lakeland College and MATC-Milwaukee for example, the number of credits that transfer to Lakeland will be maximized and graduate interns at Lakeland will work directly with MATC transfer students to help them prepare for teacher certification exams that include Praxis I, Praxis II and Foundations of Reading.

“It’s exciting to see the collaboration between staff at the 2-year and 4-year schools and the new solutions that are emerging, “says Autumn Gehri, Director of Wisconsin’s T.E.A.C.H. program. “Moreover, each project will incorporate strategies that can be replicated elsewhere in the state,” she adds.

“Ongoing education is essential for the child care workforce to meet the needs of young children at a time when their brain development is at its most critical and fragile stage,” says Ruth Schmidt, Executive Director, Wisconsin Early Childhood Association.  “The projects bring diverse educational institutions together to lower the barriers for students pursuing early childhood courses and degrees,” she says.

For over a decade, the T.E.A.C.H. program has supported the child care workforce and raised teaching quality through subsidizing the costs of tuition, books and time away from work for child care providers who want to improve their skills through college coursework, credentials and degrees. For more information see www.wisconsinearlychildhood.org/programs/teach/

Worthy Work? What is the premium for educational attainment in the early childhood field?

A new National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine publication suggests that it’s time for practices and policies regarding the early care and education of young children to catch up with the science of early brain development.  The Academy’s call is urgent and the publication seeks to transform the workforce. It includes a recommendation that all lead teachers working with children from birth through age eight have a Bachelor’s degree.  (Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8:  A Unifying Foundation)

If you’re thinking that would be quite a stretch, you’re right… but perhaps not by as much as you think.  According to a 2013 brief entitled “Number and Characteristics of Early Care and Education Teachers and Caregivers: Initial Findings from the National Survey of Early Care and Education,” more than half (53%) of child care center classroom teachers and caregivers had some level of college experience, with one-quarter (26%) having a four-year degree, a significant increase over the previous survey (2009-2010). I make less than...

The problem.  There is a major disconnect between educational attainment and compensation of the early childhood education workforce.  Unlike most professions, how much one earns in the early childhood field depends very little on one’s education.  Instead, variations in earnings depend on the age of the children and the auspice under which one works: the older the child, the more you make; and if you’re part of the public education system you make more than in Head Start, where you make more than in a child care center. It is an irrational wage structure that leaves many dedicated professionals and millions of children short-changed.

The original National Child Care Staffing Study (1989) was the first to document the link between education of caregivers and quality of care.  This study also found that wages were a key predictor of quality because low wages fueled high turnover. Yet current public policy aimed at improving quality still fails to link advances in education with improved compensation for the early childhood workforce.

Despite an explosion of knowledge about the importance of the early years, the average wage of a childcare center-based teacher ($10.60 per hour nationally), is less than those who care for our animals or as noted by Wisconsin childcare teacher, Andrea Tallacksen, who holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, less than those handling our bags at the airport – a job with no educational requirements!  (According to Delta Airlines, baggage handlers earn on average $13/hour.  Payscale.com reports the average pay of baggage handlers at $12.08/hour).

What now? Transforming this workforce begins by re-opening the conversation of compensation parity with educators of older children, revisiting public policies that fiscally undervalue the work of early childhood education, and recruiting new partners in the struggle for economic justice.

“The Raising of America” and a view from Wisconsin.

Among the 29 richest countries in the world, the US ranks 26th in child well-being. How can that be?

The Raising of America, a soon-to-be released PBS documentary, explores the connection between a strong early childhood education system and a child’s overall well-being.  To this point, the film reveals that the U.S. ranks 16th in child care affordability and 22nd in child care quality.

At a pre-screening last fall, viewers asked “What’s being done?” and “What can we do?”

Nesting graphicIn response, WECA and eight other organizations dedicated to children and families will be hosting a Wisconsin World Café in April for a variety of community leaders. Participants will participate in small-table discussions about children, families, and communities and what they need to succeed.

Also attending is, Dr. Renée Boynton-Jarrett, a pediatrician and researcher, who appears in the documentary. Using the metaphor of a nest, Dr. Boynton-Jarrett sheds some light on the interdependent nature of young children, their families, their larger community, and culture.

“So you have a child who is an individual with their biology, their genetics, and their personality characteristics,” Dr. Boynton-Jarrett explains in the documentary The Raising of America. “They are nested in their family, their peers, and their close social relationships. But that is nested in another level that is your school, your community institutions, your neighborhood. That level is nested within our cultural, our laws, our policies, our social structures, our systems. As a society, where do we see the role of our policies? Is it part of that role to help children grow and develop?”

For more, watch this 11 minute preview clip.

Next month, WECA will highlight the event and report on the discussion. Stay tuned.

We Must Do Better in “The Raising of America”

We Must Do Better in “The Raising of America”

Recently, WECA co-sponsored a screening of The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation, a PBS documentary that studies brain development in infants and the importance of quality early care for all children. The film revealed disconcerting statistics about child well-being in America.

overall child well-beingSource: Unicef 

How can it be that America ranks so low when it comes to ensuring quality early care for children? Following the film, a panel engaged the audience in discussion. Here are their perspectives: Ruth Schmidt, Wisconsin Early Childhood Association “The film places a fragile system of child care front and center in the discourse of what we need to improve as a state and nation to ensure that all our children get the best possible start in life and enter public school equally ready to succeed, regardless of socioeconomic status. Until we figure out how to make high quality child care affordable for all families we will continue to pay the later costs of remedial education, high school dropout rates, public assistance dependence, teen pregnancy, incarceration and health disparities.”

Raising of America panel

The panel (from left): Dr. Susan Ehrlich, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Fabiola Hamdan, Joining Forces for Families, Ruth Schmidt, Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, Quinton Cotton, Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families and Dr. Maria Stanley, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

Dr. Maria Stanley, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health “I don’t think that there is one magic answer, but we need to look in a global way at how we support families. Looking for example at mental health resources for parents and good access to medical care and providers who understand and care about children and do appropriate screening and support for families. It’s also about good childcare and making sure that this can be a reality by paying people enough to do that work,…by valuing the work.” Quinton Cotton, Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families “One of the key issues is the availability and accessibility of information for young families. It’s very difficult for new parents to identify resources and feel comfortable operating in new situations. Often times they don’t know where to start and they may have questions about which programs are appropriate for them. We all share a responsibility in assuring that young children and their families have the best possible start that they can. I think there is some important contribution that we all can play.” Your Thoughts? Did you attend the screening?  We want to hear from you! What direction do we need to take to make our children’s path to succeed a better and healthier one? What are the issues that take precedence? Share your thoughts by commenting below. We thank American Family Children’s Hospital and sponsors for providing this opportunity and initiating this important forum.  We look forward to advancing the well-being of children and families through collaborative efforts such as this.

WI Council on Children and Families Hosts Community Forums

The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families will host four WisKids Count Community Conversations, in collaboration with other organizations throughout the state. The goal of the forums is to increase awareness of the effects the recession has had on the well-being of children and to initiate conversation on what can be done to support children.

Local community leaders will discuss the challenges faced by families within their communities during the recession. Additional information from the recently released Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report on “America’s Children, America’s Challenge: Promoting Opportunity for the Next Generation” as well as data from the State and local levels will be presented.

La Crosse WisKids Count Community Conversation
Monday, Sept. 12, 11:15 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
UW- La Crosse – Valhalla Room Cartwright Center, 1741 State Street, La Crosse

Appleton WisKids Count Community Conversation
Wednesday, Sept. 14, 11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m.  
Zion Lutheran Church, 912 North Oneida Street, Appleton

Wausau WisKids Count Community Conversation
Tuesday, Sept. 20, 7:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.
North Central Technical College, Wausau

No registration required for the La Crosse, Appleton or Wausau Conversations
Questions can be directed to Martha Cranley, WCCF Kids Count Coordinator, at 608-284-0580 x 321 or at mcranley@wccf.org

Racine WisKids Count Community Conversation
Thursday, Sept. 22, 5:45 p.m.-7:45 p.m.
The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, 33 East Four Mile Road, Racine

To attend the Racine Conversation, please RSVP to lpiche@johnsonfdn.org at The Johnson Foundation.

For more information about the WisKids Count project visit the WCCF website.

Sen. Johnson to Hold August Listening Sessions with WI Voters

US Senator Ron Johnson (WI)

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson will hold listening sessions from August 16 to the 25 in communities across Wisconsin. Senator Johnson will not be present but his staff will relay messages from constituents back to him. WECA encourages all early childhood care and education supporters to attend the listening sessions with Senator Johnson’s staff to voice their opinions on the importance of funding early care programs.

With the current political climate, and the passing of the federal Budget Control Act of 2011, funding cuts to early care programs could impact families, children, and providers. Programs including Head Start, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Preschool Grants Program for Children with Disabilities could all face cuts.

Here are a few talking points to help you share your opinions when speaking with Senator Johnson’s staff members:

Moving forward, it is important to continue providing federal funding to support early childhood care and education in Wisconsin. Early child care and education programs prepare children to succeed when they enter school and allow parents to be reliable employees at work. Please support early childhood care and education funding in upcoming budget discussions.  It is a wise investment today—to help assure that employers have the workers they need—and for the future, so we can raise a new generation of children ready to succeed in school, work, and life.

Listening Session Schedule:

Tuesday, August 16th, 9:00 am – 10:30 am
Council Chambers, Brookfield City Hall
2000 North Calhoun Road, Brookfield, WI 53005

Tuesday, August 16th, 9:00 am – 10:00 am
Community Room, Altoona City Hall
1303 Lynn Avenue, Altoona, WI 54720

Tuesday, August 16th, 11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Menomonee Falls Village Hall
W156 N8480 Pilgrim Road, Menomonee Falls, WI 53051

Tuesday, August 16th, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm
Council Room, Clark County Courthouse
517 Court Street, Neillsville, WI 54456

Tuesday, August 16th, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm
Large Room, Crandon Public Library
110 West Polk Street, Crandon, WI 54520

Tuesday, August 16th, 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
West Entrance Meeting Room, Taylor Co Courthouse
224 South Second Street, Medford, WI 54451

Tuesday, August 16th, 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
WPS Room, Stephenson Public Library
1700 Hall Ave, Marinette, WI 54143

Thursday, August 18th, 10:30 am – 11:30 am
Conference Room, Florence County Courthouse
501 Lake Avenue, Florence, WI 54121

Thursday, August 18th, 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Lone Rock Community Center
Corner of Liberty Street and Broadway Street, Lone Rock, WI 53556

Thursday, August 18th, 1:30 pm – 2:30 pm
Council Chambers, Eagle River City Hall
525 East Maple Street, Eagle River, WI 54521

Thursday, August 18th, 3:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Council Chambers, Rhinelander, City Hall
135 South Stevens Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501

Friday, August 19th, 9:00 am – 10:30 am
Small Meeting Room, Hales Corners Village Hall
5635 South New Berlin Road, Hales Corners, WI 53130

Friday, August 19th, 9:30 am – 10:30 am
Meeting Room A, Appleton Public Library
225 Oneida Street, Appleton, WI 54911

Friday, August 19th, 11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Meeting Room, Capitol Library
3969 North 74th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53216

Thursday, August 25th, 2011, 10:30 am – 11:30 am
Centro Hispano of Dane County
810 West Badger Rd, Madison, WI 53713

Department of Children & Families Launches YoungStar Campaign

YoungStar Press Conference - Secretary Eloise Anderson

Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson speaks to the press about Wisconsin's new child care rating system, YoungStar.

Today is the beginning of a public awareness campaign by the Department of Children & Families Secretary Eloise  Anderson for YoungStar, Wisconsin’s child care rating program. Secretary Anderson held a press conference at The Learning Gardens Child Development Center in Madison. A new website, www.youngstar.wi.gov was revealed, along with billboard and city bus advertisements.

“Parents in Wisconsin can now quickly and easily access information about child care providers by ‘looking for the stars.’ The Department of Children and Families designed YoungStar with parents in mind to help them select the best provider for their children,” said Secretary Anderson. “Parents want to know their children are safe and secure, as well as gaining the knowledge and social skills that set the stage for a successful tomorrow.”

YoungStar rates child care programs on a five-star scale using research-based quality indicators to:

  • Evaluate and rate the quality of care given by child care providers;
  • Help parents choose the best child care for their kids;
  • Support providers with tools and training to deliver high-quality early care; and
  • Set a consistent standard for child care quality in Wisconsin.

Click to see photos from the YoungStar news conference.