Feb. 22, 2022
Infant and toddler teachers play an integral role in society, yet these professionals make barely above the minimum wage. This is the stark reality even in D.C., a district that has long been a pioneering force in early childhood education dating back to the creation of universal pre-K in 2008 and the Birth to Three for All Act in 2018. Faced with a current child care supply shortage, leaders in D.C. recognized the need to increase teacher salaries to build the supply of high-quality educational opportunities for children.
To tackle this complicated issue, the Early Childhood Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force (Task Force) was formed. This council-appointed Task Force was commissioned with creating a system that could quickly and effectively increase educator salaries while also creating a sustainable long-term solution. In early February, based on recommendations from this Task Force, the D.C. Council unanimously approved the use of funds collected by tax increases on D.C.’s most affluent residents to supplement the pay of early childhood educators through the establishment of the Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund.
Along with their initial recommendations, the Task Force produced a report that proposes two implementation phases to address both short-term and long-term enactment of this plan. Phase I creates a short-term funding mechanism to provide direct supplemental payments, through a state education agency-contracted intermediary, to educators who opt-in. Payment amounts will be differentiated by role, with assistant teachers receiving $10,000 and lead teachers receiving $14,000. Educators with Individual Tax Payer Identification Numbers (ITINS) or Social Security Numbers (SSN) will be paid in multiple installments.
The proposed Phase II would create a long-term funding mechanism where funds flow from the state agency (the Office of the State Superintendent of Education) to child care providers in the form of program-level operating funds. Providers agree to pay teachers a salary aligned with the new compensation scale as a condition of receiving the funding. The proposed compensation scale would provide significant salary increases for many roles as detailed in the table below.
More details about Phase II, including the formula that will be used to determine payment amounts, will be revealed in a Task Force report due in April. A clear payment formula will allow for stabilization of the child care market in ways that would not be possible if the new Pay Equity Funds were distributed via the current convoluted payment system. In the current system, reimbursements are paid to providers based on student attendance which leads to variable and unpredictable payments that arrive months after services are rendered. This fluctuating payment method makes it hard for providers to budget, since provider costs are not determined by how many days a child is present. Stable and predictable funding not only contributes to a stable child care market, but may also encourage growth.
Low pay has been a deterrent to hiring and retaining qualified early educators for years, but the pandemic has led to a child care staffing crisis. Statistics from late 2021 approximate that the early child workforce is down more than ten percent when compared to pre-pandemic levels. By investing in early educators, experienced and skilled teachers are more likely to remain in the classroom rather than leaving the field for higher paying jobs. These investments help mitigate high rates of teacher attrition and create more stable environments for children. A greater investment in teachers ultimately means a greater investment in our children.
The new pay scale sends a clear message that educators will be paid the same rate regardless of the age range served or whether an educator works in a center or home-based setting. Transparent compensation scales for early educators with the goal of parity between teachers in child care and K-12 settings promotes workforce professionalization and increased credentialization. Andrea Alfonso, a child care teacher, explains that the increase in salary will allow teachers to pursue increased credentials and degrees to “...educar mejor a los niños, que es nuestra prioridad número uno” (...better educate kids, which is our number one priority).
There are many tenants of this new bill and the subsequent Pay Equity Fund to celebrate, but there are also considerations that educators and providers should take into account. The new proposed pay structure holds the risk of pushing some educators above income eligibility limits for benefits they may currently receive, ultimately leaving them with lower overall income if they lose access. Additionally, payments to educators in Phase I and providers in Phase II suggest some level of online interaction which requires proactive training and support to ensure access to these funds.
Equitable pay for child care educators has been a passionately debated topic for decades that has only garnered more national attention after Build Back Better prioritized strategies to increase educator compensation. Although there is a strong desire to improve access and quality in child care, a lack of funding has prevented many states and districts from implementing transformational efforts at scale. The creation of the Pay Equity Fund in D.C. represents a salient opportunity for greater investment in communities, educators, and D.C.'s future—its children. With the child care workforce in peril, increasing teacher compensation ensures that there is a strong supply of early educators while also attracting new professionals to the workforce. For other places across the nation facing similar challenges, D.C. presents a potential framework for how to improve compensation for infant and toddler educators.
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