Thank an Early Childhood Educator on Worthy Wage Day

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May 1 is Worthy Wage Day, an annual day of action to raise public awareness about the low wages earned by early childhood educators, and the negative effects these wages have on providing high-quality early childhood education.

Worthy Wage Day, which began in 1991, is coordinated by the Center for the Child Care Workforce, a project of the AFT Educational Foundation. The day highlights the importance of early childhood education and the dedication of the workers who care for our community's youngest citizens.

"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," AFT president Randi Weingarten says.

Worthy Wage Day Photo. Photo by Michael Campbell.In earlier years, educators delivered peanuts and play dough to members of the U.S. Congress, saying, "We shouldn't work for peanuts!" and "We can't make it with 'play dough!'" This year, the AFT is distributing a cartoon titled "Who's Bailing Out the Children?" that compares the wages of a bank executive and an early childhood educator.

The latest data on early childhood wages show just how precarious the economic situation can be for these workers:

The mean annual salary for child care workers is $19,264.

The mean hourly wage for child care workers is $9.73. That compares with a mean hourly wage of $16.19 for preschool teachers, $33.54 for kindergarten teachers and $36.30 for elementary teachers.

"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," Weingarten says. "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."

She praised President Obama for backing 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.

"The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act presents us with a great opportunity to place new emphasis on birth-to-preschool programs," Weingarten says. "ESEA should include a dedicated, secured source of continual funding for early childhood education and child care programs."

The AFT also is calling 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.

On Worthy Wage Day, take a minute to thank our early childhood educators for the passion, commitment and personal sacrifices that keep them in the field despite its challenges. "When early childhood educators are fully supported, everyone—students, parents, educators and our community—wins," Weingarten says. [Jessica Sabol, Connie McKenna, AFT press release/photo by Michael Campbell]

April 29, 2010