Cynthia Leonor Garza
For nearly two decades, May 1 has been designated as Worthy Wage Day to recognize the hard work of early childhood educators and staff, and raise awareness about their low wages and benefits.
WASHINGTON—While there is broad recognition of the importance of high-quality early childhood education, it is unconscionable that the teachers and staff who educate and care for our young children can barely make ends meet for their own families. Child care workers earned less than $20,000 a year in 2008—about the earnings of a locker room attendant, fast food cook, dishwasher or bellhop.
If we want to ensure high-quality early childhood education, and recruit and retain talented educators, these workers must receive the worthy wages and decent benefits they deserve, as well as professional development to advance their skills and a voice through organizing in a union.
President Obama has backed up his commitment to early childhood education by including $2.1 billion for Head Start and Early Head Start in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We should build upon this momentum. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act presents us with a great opportunity to place new emphasis on birth-to-preschool programs. ESEA should include a dedicated, secured source of continual funding for early childhood education and child care programs.
The AFT also calls on the administration and Congress to establish a high-level commission on the early childhood workforce to compile comprehensive data that can drive better public policy on this issue. The AFT supports using innovative alternative compensation plans that include monetary incentives for tuition reimbursement, and stipends that can be used for professional training. When early childhood educators are fully supported, everyone—students, parents, educators and our community—wins.