Baby Steps? Big Changes? One Way Louisiana is Strengthening its ECE Workforce

Blog Post
Aug. 6, 2018

There’s an ongoing discussion in the early care and education policy space about how to strengthen and better support the workforce. We know that high-quality early learning programs cannot exist without staff who have the knowledge and competencies they need to work with young children, yet ensuring each classroom is equipped with such educators is no easy feat. And finding and retaining strong infant and toddler teachers, where the cost of care is highest and the pay is lowest, can be especially difficult.

The National Academy of Medicine’s Transforming the Workforce report, brought needed attention to the complexity of this work and recommended that the field move toward requiring all lead teachers for children birth to age 8 (B-8) to have a bachelor’s degree with specialization in early education. But for many programs, communities, and states, getting all early educators to a bachelor’s degree seems like a pipe dream-- or a nightmare.

Take Louisiana for instance. While teachers working in the state’s public pre-K program need a bachelor’s degree, Louisiana is one of 19 states that doesn’t even require a high school diploma for lead teachers in licensed child care centers. Many child care teachers enter the classroom with no training or education in child development or early learning. Getting all of these teachers to a bachelor’s degree would take an investment of time and money that most of them do not have and that the state is currently unable to provide.

But that is not the end of the story in Louisiana. The state’s Department of Education is strategically using the resources it does have to strengthen its workforce. Starting in 2019, all lead teachers in Louisiana centers that receive public funding will need to have an Early Childhood Ancillary Certificate. The hope is that raising the qualifications of the workforce will improve the quality of care and education, and thus set children on the path to succeed in school. This is an important step for a state that doesn’t have a strong track record of doing what is best for kids.

But what exactly is an Early Childhood Ancillary Certificate? State officials describe it as an “enhanced CDA” or Child Development Associate credential. The CDA requires candidates to complete 120 clock hours of professional education and have 480 hours of experience working with young children. And just like a CDA, the coursework covered in Ancillary Certificate programs must include things like supporting social children’s emotional development and building relationships with families. Nine states currently require child care teachers to have a CDA.

What makes the Ancillary Certificate different is that there is a mentoring and coaching component to help ensure that practice actually improves. The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), which measures the quality of adult-child interactions that are so key to children’s learning, is also incorporated throughout Ancillary Certificate programs. Louisiana uses CLASS across all early education programs to measure quality. According to the state website, candidates must undergo CLASS observations “completed by program instructors or coaches, and must only be used to inform the coaching and instruction of the Early Childhood Ancillary Certificate Programs.”

The Bayou State  created this policy in 2014, giving stakeholders approximately five years to get on board. In the meantime, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved 21 programs throughout the state to offer the Ancillary Certificate. Using their federal Child Care and Development Block Grant dollars, the state created a grant program called Believe and Prepare that gave programs start-up funding to complete their applications. Just like teacher preparation programs for K-12, all Ancillary Certificate providers to go the state board for approval.

Jenna Conway, former Louisiana Assistant Superintendent of Early Childhood and the brains behind many of the state’s early education reforms, says there was a lot of interest from providers. Now community colleges, non-profits, Child Care Resource & Referral agencies, four-year institutions of higher education, and even independent child care institutions are approved to prepare child care teachers. The Department of Education is currently working with an online vendor to improve access statewide, especially for those in rural areas.

Not only has the state worked to make sure teachers have physical access to the Ancillary Certificate programs, but it has also prioritized financial accessibility. The state has committed $5 million to scholarships so that teachers can attend approved programs at no cost.  When reflecting on the recent policy changes, one teacher I spoke with who earned her Ancillary Certificate shared, “I thought it was good because we were able to get scholarships for us to go. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to go. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.”

Of course, even with free tuition and local or online programs, there’s still the challenge of finding time for further education while working full-time. Another teacher who recently completed her Ancillary Certificate shared, “I didn’t think I was going be able to do it. I have so much going on with my kids. We each trying to do school stuff. I was getting married. I had to fit all that in my schedule. Plus I had to go back to get my high school diploma. I took some Saturdays and did it. Since I was also taking the college classes, it was a lot.”

And according to teachers I talked to, some of their colleagues decided it was easier to just leave the field than to go back to school since they can earn comparable wages at a job with no higher education requirements. According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment Workforce Index, the average hourly wage for a child care worker in Louisiana is only $8.85. For comparison, pre-K teachers in the state earn $17.07. To encourage teachers to stay and earn the certificate, the state does offer a sizable refundable tax credit of up to $3,000. Teachers need to earn the certificate and stay in the child care sector to receive the full amount.

With all the conversation focused on getting early educators to the bachelor’s degree requirement, Louisiana’s reforms might not sound like much. But state policymakers are realistic about the starting point for the workforce, existing resources, and the political climate. Conway explained that “Louisiana is trying to transform an industry, and has tried to be extremely thoughtful of the bottom line impact and how the state can support them to be more effective.” When asked about pushback from the field, she said, “There has been a lot of change and there are very real tensions around equity,” but said the state has “piloted all of their big moves to learn from the field and have tried to course correct when things didn't go as planned.”

Some teachers who have completed their Ancillary Certificate can already see how it is professionalizing the field. One teacher who is currently enrolled in an Ancillary Certificate program says she thinks the requirement was “a good idea” because it “shows that we can do stuff. Some people think it’s only daycare, but we do teach. We are just like teachers. [This requirement] makes us look better. We are teachers too.”

There is momentum right now from advocates, researchers, and some policymakers to increase the education and credentials of the ECE workforce. When looking for innovation in education, experts and policymakers rarely look to Louisiana, but the Ancillary Certificate is one of a few important reforms that the state has undertaken. We’ll be releasing a report this fall that digs into the others.

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